Saturday, February 22, 2014

Horses and Self-Regulating Emotions


 Horses have the gift, as herd animals, to sense and react to the emotions and intentions of whatever group they are a part of.   This attribute makes our interactions with them particularly useful in learning how to self-regulate emotions.   Horses, generally speaking, do not hold on to emotions so we can learn by their body language, posture, breathing how they bring themselves back to a sense of calm.  For instance after a scare they react and respond to the threat with tense muscles, flared nostrils, high head, rapid breathing and springing to action if necessary.  When the threat is gone their body language and posture changes, their heads, lower, their breathing slows and deepens, their muscles relax.  In the wild, horses would not survive if they did not learn how to release this tension.  It takes tremendous energy to respond to a threat so they learn to conserve the energy by letting it go when it is not necessary.

People, especially traumatized people, have their nervous system constantly set on high alert which makes it difficult to regulate emotions.  It is exhausting to our bodies to have our heads spinning, thoughts racing and body tensed for long periods of time.  Added to this is the reality that many traumatized people have been taught to shut down their emotions so emotions spins out of control completely out of their awareness until it explodes (or implodes) into some destructive force.


The skill of regulating emotions can be taught by observing and being around horses.  Horses are honest with their emotions and bodies if they also have not been traumatized or over regulated and allowed to 'be' horses.

As someone who has a trauma history and suffered from anxiety for years, I have experienced this gift from my horses.  Some of the learning came about naturally.  Horses are sensitive creatures, as am I, so I observed them observing me and we connected and learned together.  Some of it has been taught thru riding green horses and my own sense of self-preservation (tight muscles + anxious mind = anxious horse!).  Some of my learning came together while at a Natural Lifemanship clinic while working as an equine specialist.  I also connected some of the dots in my horses and healing journey by way of Somatic Experiencing (developed by Peter Levine).   I am taking my training journey to another level this next week at Eastern Mennonite University,  Center for Justice and Peacebuilding  STAR Program Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience Training.

I will write more on this subject soon with tips on how to learn more so stop by again or sign up for updates.

But before I go, the barn is calling.  The sun is out and I want some horse therapy!  :)

Happy Trails!

Sue