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Equine Therapy: Embrace The Power Of Vulnerability

equine therapy“We can’t know things like love and belonging and creativity and joy without vulnerability.” Brene Brown

What is Vulnerability?

Being able to relinquish the need for control, is at the heart of vulnerability. Four separate studies related to effectiveness with people from foreign cultures indicate “tolerance for uncertainty” as the most important component (Fox, 2003). Other qualities that emerged from the studies characterize vulnerability: “high openness”, “low ethnocentrism”, “high acculturation motivation”, “intercultural receptivity”, “low need for upward mobility” and “low security needs” (Fox 2003).

Vulnerability, although often interpreted as being in imminent danger, is really about being unable to control every situation. However, remaining in control effectively stops growth and it is not until we can let go of control that the potential for growth, joy, love and learning emerges.

And for every form of vulnerability, there is a way to deny it. We can pasteurize our lives to the point of monotony, in an attempt to avoid any pain, but also avoid any life. Life after all, is not monotonous.

Life has danger, pain and harm, and how we view these things depends on whether we attempt to be independent of others or interdependent with others. Being vulnerable is being open to mutual exchange, being open to being wrong, and being open to allow someone else control. In choosing to admit, understand and embrace our vulnerability in this context, we are released from our fears.

How Does Vulnerability Affect Relationships?

Embracing vulnerability is an act toward engaging in a mutual relationship. In doing this we also recognize fears inherent within this mutual relationship.

Embracing vulnerability is also a way to express the intent not only to avoid harm, but to do no harm. It rejects any barriers that may be placed between to people, and demonstrates a desire to find a peaceful understanding.

Embracing vulnerability acknowledges that two people are on equal footing, and no one is the “expert”, and avoids any attempt to be the owner of the expertise, or the superior figure. What this means in the mutual relationship is that the person embracing vulnerability effectively says, “I am not going to tell you that your chosen path of travel is wrong, but instead that I am on the road with you”.

What these sorts of interactions build is rapport, trust, and mutual interdependence, where, more than anything, feeling of fear can dissipate.

How Can Equine Therapy Help A Person To Embrace Vulnerability?

When it comes to horses, there is really not much that doesn’t make us vulnerable. Simply being in the presence of a 1200 pound animal is an exercise in vulnerability. And yet, if a person tries to avoid vulnerability, as may be a practiced exercise with people, he will be faced with pretending as if he is not afraid. Horses, however, are unique when it comes to large animals. Unlike a predatory animal, such as a lion or tiger, a horse is completely reliant in his ability to detect fear among his herd-mates as a way to be aware of danger. When a person enters a horse’s presence, he effectively becomes a herd- mate, and so when he also exhibits fear (especially when he is attempting to disguise it or not) the horse will also react with fear. Now the horse becomes not just a large imposing animal, but a large imposing, fast moving animal. On the other hand, what happens when a person embraces his/her vulnerability?

Embracing vulnerability around a horse, or in any environment, means admitting fear, and relinquishing control. See for a horse there is nothing worse than denying fear, and trying to take control. What this effectively says to the horse is, “Let me be like a predator to you, and prevent you from escaping your fear.” But when a person admits fear, and does not make any attempt to take control of the horse, this allows (key word allow) the horse to decide for himself if the environment is really dangerous or not.

Allowing the horse to decipher where the fear is coming from — which is w well honed skill for a prey animal — gives him the opportunity to recognize that the fear is not his own, and instead coming form the person. And because the person is not attempting to make the horse face the fear, he can also run from it if necessary. In this circumstance, the horse will typically approach the person with guarded curiosity (slowly and carefully). Obviously, this response is not only much safer, but much more desired by a fearful person.

Interestingly, the response among people is not much different, for when a person can admit fear, and relinquish control, the doors open wide for others to approach with kindness, concern, and care.


Woman riding bareback photo available from Shutterstock

Equine Therapy: Embrace The Power Of Vulnerability

Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in post-traumatic growth, leveraging adversity, and other epic human achievements. Claire has written multiple continuing education courses for Professional Development Resources, Zur Institute, and International Sport Science Association. Claire has also authored multiple books, including:
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards and On The Back Of A Horse: Harnessing The Healing Power Of The Human-Equine Bond. For more information about Leveraging Adversity or Claire, visit

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APA Reference
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2012). Equine Therapy: Embrace The Power Of Vulnerability. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 18, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Nov 2012
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