by Jolene Green
I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. About ten years ago I was introduced to horses. They changed my life. I quickly realized they could be a powerful force for hope, growth and joy for my client’s lives as well. I searched out and began practicing EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Assoc.), one form of EAP, but there are many, many other forms and styles. When I tell people I do EAP they always ask, “What is EAP?” Officially it means Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. As a professional, I practice a formal therapeutic style, but if you own or have the privilege of being a partner with a horse, most likely you have discovered every time you are with a horse, it is therapeutic.
You probably find yourself quoting “there’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse” often, especially to your non-horsey friends, but have you ever wondered why?
Fortunately many researchers have asked that question with fascinating results. Dr. Anna Baldwin and Dr. Gehrke (there are others) in independent studies by measuring HRV (heart rate variability) showed horses “seem to live in a coherent (happy, calm, peaceful) state” unless “scary situations” arise. When your heart is in “coherence” as established by The Institute of HeartMath, you are calm, joyous, in a state of gratitude, peace and well-being. Turns out horses live in that state unless frightened. Even then, as prey animals, when what they perceive as a threat passes, they return to their coherent state within minutes. Horses have VLF or ELF (Very LowFrequency or Extremely Low Frequency) heart electromagnetic waves. People not so much. These very low frequency heart waves are directly related to health and well being. People who don’t have enough of these are more prone to inflammation and PTSD, anxiety and depression.
The human heart puts out an energy field up to 8 to 10 feet, as measured by a magnetometer. A horse’s electromagnetic field is five times larger than the human one and is also stronger than ours. So within 30 seconds of touching a horse his heart will take over your heart and bring it to his level, helping us feel better. “Research shows that people experience many physiological benefits while interacting with horses, including lowered blood pressure and heart rate; increased levels of beta-endorphins (neurotransmitters that serve as pain suppressors); decreased stress levels; reduced feelings of anger, hostility, tension, and anxiety; improved social functioning; and increased feelings of empowerment, trust, patience and self-efficacy.” (Dr. Maria Katsamanis & Dominique Barbier THE ALCHEMY OF LIGHTNESS) This is a lot of scientific talk that tells us what we already know: being with our horse/horses makes us feel better.
A returning vet with severe PTSD came to my place, The Barn, after his wife called me saying if things didn’t change she was taking their 3 small children and leaving. She said he was angry, hostile, impatient and scaring their children. He came to 10 one-hour sessions. He never said a word. He just went to the horses (I have 10), pet them, kneeled down by them, stayed with them. In one of his sessions, he leaned over my horse, Tina, and cried for an hour. Tina didn’t move. She occasionally reached back and touched him on the shoulder. On his last session, he walked over and said “They reminded me to be human. They helped me find my heart again.” He didn’t return. When I called to check in with his wife, she said she had her sweet husband back.
Another man called to make an appointment for his 15 year old daughter. He chose to stay for the session, sittiing in a chair just inside the fence. Tina (my Norwegian Fjord) walked over to the man, put her nose on him and stood that way the entire hour of his daughter’s session. At the end of the hour, I asked him why the horse was with him. He said “She’s comforting me. The reason we’re here is because my wife is an alcoholic. When she drinks, she abuses my daugher. The State told me if I don’t get my wife out of the house, they’ll put my daughter in foster care. I filed for divorce today and I’m broken hearted.”
Our horses are a privilege and a gift. They change our lives and our hearts. And, if you are like me, we never get enough. They are good therapy.