Can Equine Therapy Modulate Stress?

Thanks to the pioneering work of Hans Selye, we have a fairly solid understanding of the stress response. However, it is the modulation of this very powerful reaction to stressors that we continue to struggle with. Further, it is the deleterious effects of stress that lead to a number of stress-related diseases and conditions. 


Equine Therapy: Mounted or Unmounted

For those unfamiliar with equine therapy, it seems the most common question is whether or not the horse is going to be ridden. Complicating this question is that for most people, the exposure to equine therapy has been that of therapeutic riding programs. Naturally then, when hearing the words “equine therapy,” the assumption is that the horse will be ridden.

In fact, the term equine therapy itself can be a bit misleading, as it is used to describe both therapeutic riding, which of course is done for the physical rehabilitation of those with disabilities, and equine facilitated mental health programs, which are conducted for the psychological rehabilitation of those involved.

Making matters even more complicated, one of the largest governing bodies of equine therapy, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH), stemmed from the North American Handicapped Riding Association, (NAHRA), and now offers certifications for both the Therapeutic Riding Instructor (who would do mounted work with children with physical disabilities) and Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning (who would do unmounted work with those with psychological distress).

Equine Therapy: Object Constancy

At its core, cognitive-behavioral therapy encourages balanced thinking. Through examining our thought patterns, and sometimes through the use of thought charts, we can identify characteristic ways of thinking that then lead to uncomfortable emotions.

Being able to tolerate both negative and positive emotions toward an object or person is a hallmark of this type of therapy. This concept, referred to by some as having a bi-phasic personality, is also a core component of the development of object constancy.

In order to have object constancy, a child must be able to grasp the idea that when something is bad (like an inattentive mother), it is not bad or gone forever. Instead, when the child has achieved object constancy, he/she demonstrates the understanding that a mother can fail to meet his/her needs in one moment, and yet still be a constancy in his/her life, capable of meeting his/her needs.


How Approachable Are You?

While conducting a group recently, I was struck by how tentative the members were when I asked the question, “How approachable do you think you are?”

Of course, I was asking the members to tell each other.

Resistance to authenticity is a natural effect of being human. We all engage in the habit of wanting to protect ourselves form the potential negative impact of THE TRUTH. Of course, the truth we are speaking of is really only our perception, or our truth. Yet, this inherent tendency to avoid revealing what we really think impairs social relationships greatly.

How can a person, protected from other people's perceptions of him/her, make any necessary behavioral adjustments?


Equine Therapy: What To Ask Before Starting

Working with a 1,500 pound animal alone can be intimidating, but when equine therapy programs are as varied and sometimes loosely structured as they are today, the choice of just where to go to begin can also be quite overwhelming.

So what does the potential equine therapy client need to ask to make an informed choice about the right equine therapy program for him/her?

Well, as with anything that is active in nature and involves potential risk of injury, the potential equine therapy client should first gain clearance from his/her doctor before beginning an equine therapy program. Following this clearance, however, the client who is interested in equine therapy can be helped by asking the following questions:

What would I most like to accomplish through equine therapy? Often people enter therapy because the pain of remaining where they are outweighs the pain of the efforts to change. However, what is often clouded by the pain is just what the person may want to accomplish. I do not mean simply “feeling better,” but pinpointing just what you would like to change.


Let Go and Hold On: Why Horses Spook and People Attack

Riding can teach a person many things. Proprioception, neuromuscular control and balance all are demanded when we sit on the back of a horse. But certainly there is a vibrant emotional contagion occurring separately between the horse and rider.

Shared between a rider and his/her horse is a communication that is exclusive to only them. While others can guess what a horse may be sensing or feeling, only his rider truly knows. And conversely, only a horse truly knows what his rider is feeling.

Unlike many human social exchanges, that which is shared between the horse and rider is never manufactured, artificial, or forged in any way. Instead, what is thought by the rider is transmitted on a physiological level immediately to the horse, and immediately, the horse reacts.


Equine Therapy: Dressage in Perspective

With all of the media attention around Ann Romney’s horse Rafalca in the Olympic games, the equestrian sport of dressage has certainly been brought to the forefront; interesting many people who would otherwise have no idea what the oldest of all the equestrian divisions actually is.

However, I’m not so sure all the coverage is for one thing the most accurate, or for another, the most positive. While Stephen Colbert’s depiction of “fancy prancing” is sure to bring some laughs, as of just today, an article in the New York Daily News slams Mrs. Romney’s horse for the failure of the Americans to medal on the world stage.

The reality is that dressage is hard...really hard. To really get a sense of what this sport is like, imagine ice skating while holding a squirmy puppy and trying to navigate a pattern perfectly and beautifully. Horses are much like puppies in that their attention span is not so good, they are incredibly reactive to human emotions and behavior, and in the beginning, they are not terribly coordinated.

Famous People and The Horses They Love: Daryl Hannah

Perhaps best known for her role as the blonde mermaid in Ron Howard’s film, "Splash," Daryl Hannah appeared in many films throughout the 1980’s, including "Roxanne," "Blade Runner" and "Wall Street."

However, unlike many beautiful Hollywood actresses, Hannah not only lives a life off the grid, but also in harmony with many things, not in the least of which is horses.

In one of her web videos, Hannah demonstrates the safety of her vegetable oil-powered car by licking the gas cap, as her solar-powered ranch hums along quietly. But one thing she is not quiet about is environmental issues.

She has been arrested many times for her protests of mountaintop removal, urban farm demolition and the planned Keystone Oil Pipeline.

But for all of her activism, it seems that the actress feels most at home among her horses.


Famous People and the Horses They Love: Lyle Lovett

Certainly the sound of a large band can’t be missed, especially when it's done well. A large band is actually one of Lyle Lovett’s trademarks, among other things. A native Texan, Lovett has recorded thirteen albums and released twenty-one singles to date. Creating many Top Ten Billboard Hits and albums, the singer has also won four Grammy Awards, including Best Male Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Album.

Lovett has also appeared on screen in many different films and sitcoms, including “Mad About You,” “Dharma and Greg” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

What many people may not know is that Lovett co-owns a world class reining stallion, Smart and Shiny, and has for years bred and raised exceptional Quarter Horses.


Famous People and the Horses They Love — William Shatner

There are few people who wouldn’t recognize William Shatner for his portrayal of James T. Kirk, captain of USS Enterprise, in the science fiction television series "Star Trek," the following animated series, or the seven subsequent "Star Trek" films.

However, Shatner’s roles expand far beyond "Star Trek." He also played the veteran police sergeant T.J. Hooker, and hosted the reality-based television series "Rescue 911," which won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite New TV Dramatic Series. Following that, Shatner starred as attorney Danny Crane in the television drama "The Practice," and the spin-off, "Boston Legal," for which he won two Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award.

While Shatner is nothing short of an icon for many, for those in the horse world, he is best known as an activist. Since 1990, Shatner has been the driving force behind the Hollywood Charity Horse Show, which raises money for several different children’s charities, especially those that help handicapped children through riding horses -- a project dear to Shatner’s heart.