First domesticated at least 4,000 years ago, few animals have as lengthy or as close a connection with human beings as the horse. That connection extends much further than the traditional tasks of pulling a plough or carrying us over great distances.
These days people are tapping into the potential of horses to help recover from trauma, tackle mental health issues and find greater peace.
“Horses have an incredible ability to help people foster healing,” says Sue Dixon, who operates Partnering Horses with Humans out of Bracebridge and Orillia. “Horses don’t judge you. You can simply be in their company, be calm and breathe. I’ve seen some amazing things happen between people and horses.”
Dixon is a certified Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning (FEEL) practitioner through Horses Spirit Connections, a certified Horsemanship Association coach and she has a degree in Sociology from the University of Waterloo. She rode horses as a child but didn’t pick it up again until later in life. It was from a riding friend that she was introduced to equine-assisted learning.
“I learned from her how to interact and how to connect at a level I never have before,” says Dixon.
The services offered at Partnering Horses with Humans include everything from helping people set and achieve goals both professionally and personally, to strengthening self-esteem and team building.
Dixon says equine therapy can be particularly helpful in dealing with bereavement.
“Horses are an emotional magnet,” she says. “Often, if you’re simply in their presence and you become quiet and still emotions will simply rise to the surface.”
Dixon says there’s science behind the horse’s unique ability to serve as a therapy animal.
For one, horses are prey animals and, as such, are especially in tune with their surroundings. That includes other animals that are in their presence.
“I remember we had a foster child visit, and she had a pretty rough go in life so far,” says Dixon. “When she came in she yawned and the horse immediately yawned as well. She sensed the exhaustion in the child and we talked and found out more. It turned out she hadn’t been sleeping because she was afraid of the dark.”
Sometimes therapy is a chance to grieve or fully express emotions, and sometimes it’s an opportunity to problem solve and come up with solutions and healthy life choices.
“The work I do incorporates mindfulness techniques and journaling that you can take from your experience with the horses and implement into your daily life,” says Dixon.
She says the work she does is to act as a facilitator. Most of the work is done between the person and the horse.
“My job is just to plant the seeds and to help them find the path to their goals,” she says.
You can find out more at www.equinetherapymuskoka.com.
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