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How Horses Heal

Let these four-legged creatures teach you how to live more fully.

 Kayla Farmer/Unsplash
Source: Kayla Farmer/Unsplash

Every time I put my foot in the stirrup and fling myself up on my horse, I know I’m trusting him with my life. I know he has a lot more power and strength than I do, and I know he could unintentionally have me on the floor in a millisecond. I know all this, yet I still choose to climb onboard. Why? Because horses heal.

They heal you on so many levels and in so many different ways I’ve lost count. They fill you with love, trust, and self-confidence. They make you connect to your body and soul whilst they open their hearts for you to connect to theirs. They breed freedom and wilderness into your being, making you braver and bolder than ever before. They bring out your true self because when you’re with them, you can’t hide. They make you feel like you’re one with the world whilst being out of this world.

Horses are some of the most powerful, sensitive creatures we humans get so close to. With a strong body and mind of their own, they could easily go against our wishes and reject our requests. Yet, with their kind and willing hearts, they don’t. They choose to trust us because we choose to trust them too. Perhaps it’s this dynamic between human and horse, predator and prey, a creature so small and another so big, that makes our interactions with them so healing.

According to archaeological findings, they have existed for around 40 million years. Drawings by cavemen have shown they’ve been in our human lives since 4000 B.C. Initially, we rode them bareback across the plains, hunting for food. Later on, we used them as transportation. Today, they are some of our best friends. To many, they are some of the biggest loves of our lives.

Maybe it is the raw, intuitive nature that every horse naturally possesses that draws us to them. There is no dishonesty or fakeness because neither of those exists in their nature. It’s this realness that makes us real around them too. When you approach them, they instinctively mirror your inner substance back at you. If you approach them with love and kindness, they will come to you with the same. If you approach them with fear or anxiety, they will mirror this too. If you approach them with confidence, they will let you take the reins and be led anywhere you want them to go. This is what makes our relationships with them so magical.

The way they are is due to two natural qualities they possess: hyper-vigilance and herd dynamics. Both of these have helped them survive in the wild for millions of years. Their hyper-vigilance made their senses extremely heightened so that they could read their surroundings carefully and notice any sign of threat from afar. Now, it’s this same vigilance that enables them to read you and everything you’re feeling fully.

The herd dynamics, on the other hand, are the qualities that enabled them to survive together as a group. They accepted each other, they were kind and respectful to each other, and they were incredibly tolerant and forgiving of each other, regardless of whether they were perfect or not. Most importantly, they were always honest and fair, non-judgmental, and compassionate, behaving in a way they knew would increase their chance of survival. All these qualities of herd dynamics are still there when we as humans interact with them today.

This is why equine-assisted therapy has grown in popularity over the last decades, and research has shown multiple positive effects. Interacting with horses has taught many to trust, practice mindfulness, be more assertive without being bossy, and connect to themselves more positively. They’ve even helped many to reduce their anxiety, feelings of depression, and unwelcome emotional outbursts. They’ve had positive effects on the mental well-being of many and have even helped war veterans with post-traumatic stress, autistic children with social interaction, and convicted criminals with changing their paths to a more positive one.

As you can see, there is a lot we can learn from these four-legged friends. For me, these are the learnings that stand out the most:

1. Be present.

When you’re somewhere, be fully there. With every sense you’ve got and with every cell in your body. You might be amazed by what you start to notice and experience simply by being fully present.

2. Accept yourself—and others—exactly as they are.

A tolerant, non-judgmental approach to yourself and to everyone you meet will make the world a lot kinder and more compassionate. Accept that everyone is different and how that is exactly what makes the world so amazing. Believe that everyone is doing the best they can with the knowledge they have, including you. With beliefs like this, we start creating a world that not only makes living easier but also flourishing more effortless.

3. Practice forgiveness.

Both towards yourself and others. It’s incredible how critical you can be of yourself when you make a mistake or face a setback. Equally, sometimes you can hold grudges about the silliest things when it comes to other people’s mistakes or things wrongly said. Drop the unnecessary resentment that is simply weighing you down, and forgive. It doesn’t mean you have to forget and not learn from it, but it does mean you let go of the negative energy that you’re carrying with it.

4. Connect.

Connect with others. Connect with those that lift you higher. Connect with your very own herd. As humans, we are social creatures just like horses, and we need each other not only to survive but to
thrive.

5. Be open to possibility.

Be honest and fair. The next time you meet a new soul or are faced with a new challenge, look at it exactly as it is. Put your past beliefs aside and your future wishes to the back, and closely observe what is in front of you right here, right now. Experience it with those vigilant senses, and you might find that you’ll discover possibilities that you’d never seen before.

I, for one, will be putting my foot in the stirrup for as long as I can. I will approach them with compassion and let them mirror that back. I will let them breathe their warm air into my face as I say hi. I will keep letting horses heal.

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