Why Horses?

Many people wonder “why horses?” Beyond their physical beauty, and almost mythical presence throughout literature and human history, what makes horses such valuable partners in learning for humans?

“Horses communicate non-verbally and rely on immediate feedback from their environment to survive. It is this communication dynamic between horses and humans which provides a rich learning environment – one full of relational problem solving that allows people to learn emotional sensitivity, self and social awareness, self – management and effective communication skills and strategies.” 

PATRICIA DYK

PhD & Director, Center for Leadership Development, University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture

Highly Sensitive Animals

As animals that are preyed upon in the wild, horses are highly sensitive and attuned with their environments. In nature they are said to be able to feel the difference between a predator out for a stroll, and one out for the kill. Horses feel minute shifts in the mood, attention, focus, and intention of those around them. Horses feel this information as sensation in their bodies, and are able to respond immediately. We humans live much more in our heads and in our thoughts than horses, and this makes us less aware, less sensitive, and less connected to ourselves and our environments. The way in which a horse responds to a human, can guide that person to new insights and revelations about themselves. People often remark that the horse sees things in themselves before they do. In the presence of horses, we are invited to reconnect with the often latent centers of awareness and intelligence connecting the mind, heart, and gut.

Complex Social Structure & Community

Horses and humans have a common need to live within complex social structures for survival and to thrive. A lone horse in the wild cannot survive long without herd mates to share in finding food, standing guard while others sleep, fighting off predators, protecting the most vulnerable herd members, and engaging in oxytocin producing mutual grooming rituals. Horses who are treated with respect by humans exhibit a strong willingness and desire to connect and be with people. People benefit when we learn to slow down our thoughts, drop awareness into our bodies, and pay close attention to the non-verbal language of horses. New worlds open up, insight pours in, and horses offer a palpable feeling of connection and affinity that rewards us greatly for our efforts at expanded consciousness. We learn a great deal about ourselves, about developing authentic community, and the power of being in the present moment. When we make the leap to take these insights into the daily practice of living, we begin to thrive instead of just survive.

Horses & Human Health

Research from the Institute of HeartMath has shown that the rhythm of a healthy heart-even under resting conditions – is surprisingly irregular, with the time interval between consecutive heartbeats constantly changing. This naturally occurring beat-to-beat variation in heart rate is called heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is now considered an important indicator of health and fitness. As a marker of physiological resilience and behavioral flexibility, it reflects our ability to adapt effectively to stress and environmental demands. HRV can measure when we are in an optimal state referred to as psychophysiological coherence. It is characterized by increased order and harmony in both our psychological (mental and emotional) and physiological (bodily) processes. When we activate this state, our physiological systems function more efficiently, we experience greater emotional stability, and we also have increased mental clarity and improved cognitive function. Simply stated, our body and brain work better, we feel better, and we perform better.

Ann Linda Baldwin, PhD is a researcher and Professor of Physiology and Psychology at the University of Arizona, Tucson. In 2015 Ann conducted research examining Heart Rate Variability (HRV) in horses and humans. She found that horses generally exist in a state of coherence (a healthy range of HRV), and that they have the ability to influence the HRV of human subjects, so that they also entered into a state of coherence. Further details of Dr. Baldwin’s research will be listed here when they have been published.

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