Other Riding

How Horses Heal Humans

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Written by Tara Coyote

When I was nine years old, I started spending summers in New Hampshire…

My parents started a wildlife safari business and they would travel to exotic pockets of the world like East Africa. My brother and I were flown off to New England to spend time with our cousins.

Luckily for me, they had horses! It was during that tender summer when I was dearly missing my mother, that I was infected by the ‘horse obsessed girl’ bug!

Ever since then, horses have been in the background of my life.

After that fateful summer, I begged my parents to purchase a horse for me. Alas, I never got one due to the statement that ‘horses are too expensive and require too much care.’

In retrospect, if they had gifted me with a horse, it would have saved them a fair amount of stress (and probably money) in the long run. I would have been much less of a troublemaker as a teenager, if my parents had given into my endless pleas.

I engaged as much as I could with horses as a young girl, but then eventually the interest in boys superseded the call of the equines.

I forgot about horses as life became full of the responsibility of being a young single mother, trying to survive and still following my bliss.

Almost two decades later, I was introduced to the bestselling book, The Tao of Equus by Linda Kohanov. Her book reminded me of the connection to horses that had been relegated to the far corners of my mind.

the tao of equus

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When a traumatic event unfolded in my life and my picture-perfect life was instantly shattered, I was instinctively drawn to be with horses again.

Broken down and heartbroken, I started doing sessions with an equine therapist. This experience helped me find the foundation I needed to have hope once again. Being with horses was a truly transformational force that shifted the dark depression I was in.

It felt like one session of equine therapy was equal to months of traditional talk therapy.

At that time, I owned and ran a successful Pilates & Gyrotonic Exercise Method business in affluent Marin County, Northern California. The hardship that I had experienced had been so abrasive that I felt like I needed to make a dramatic life change.

Spending time with the horses had such an insightful impact that I realized I wanted to help others in the same profound manner that the horses had helped me. I made a 180-degree turn, despite the bemused concern of my family that urged me to not make such a drastic, irresponsible change.

I slowly started shifting my work from being an exercise teacher to being trained as an Equine Facilitated Learning instructor with the famed author Linda Kohanov at her Eponaquest Institute.

Over a period of time I sold my Pilates business, and beloved exercise equipment, to purchase my first soulmate mustang horse, Comanche.

I eventually purchased a ranch in Nevada City, California, turned it into a horse retreat center and named it ‘Wind Horse Sanctuary.’ Over a period of five years I led hundreds of people in private sessions, group workshops, and my own personal creation: ‘Grief Rituals with Horses.’

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It was a powerful experience to witness the transformation that would occur when my clients were around horses. This is a reality that is hard to put into words, but is much easier to personally experience.

There is something magical that happens around horses.

I attribute this to the fact that horses have large hearts. The ‘HeartMath Institute’ of Santa Cruz, CA, shares how our hearts have a much more powerful energetic field than our brains actually do. If you have ever spent time with a horse, you can attest to the wonderful calming sensation experienced around them.

The heart of a horse actually affects humans in a beneficial manner through influencing our own nervous system to calm down.

It is common for repressed emotions to be easily released around horses. I have witnessed clients show up for a workshop in a pent-up emotional state through being angry, depressed or experiencing a stuck sensation of grief.

grace grit and gratitude

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Through spending gentle time with the horses, the repressed emotions would slowly unwind with clients dropping into deep, relaxing breathing. Often a release of tears would aid in the therapeutic process. The client would gain insightful realizations of what was holding her back from her personal growth. It is a phenomenal experience to witness.

Horses are 100% authentic creatures.

You cannot put on a false façade around a horse. As Chris Irwin states in the title of his book, Horses Don’t Lie, horses will see right through you, if you are attempting to suppress an emotion. Since in our human society that teaches us to put on a false smile and be happy at all costs, it can be a relief to be able to show up in a real manner with a horse. No wonder being around horses is so restorative.

horses don't lie

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The exercises offered through Equine Facilitated Learning range from reflective to active ones. The reflective exercises tend to be more passive and revolve around quietly tuning into the layers of subtle awareness within the client and the horse.

The active exercises are leadership based and have the client engage in exercises such as doing round pen work, which can be incredibly empowering. Other topics we focus on with the EFL exercises are boundaries, the message behind emotions (Emotional Message Chart), and the authentic/conditioned self.

When I was trained at Eponaquest seven years ago, Equine Facilitated Learning (or the other terms it is called such as Equine Coaching/Equine Assisted Learning/Equine Therapy) was a relatively new field. Since then, many training organizations have popped up in this new equine driven field. This is exciting, as I believe humans are becoming increasingly more aware of the potential of horses to aid humans in healing.

It is common now to see veterans and developmentally disabled kids and adults working with horses in a therapeutic manner.

When I was first starting to spend time with horses again, I was fortunate to volunteer with kids in this manner. It was stunning to see how horses had a profoundly calming effect on autistic children.

If you are called to experience Equine Facilitated Learning, coaching or therapy with a horse, I encourage you to try it. Most likely, it will propel you to a new level of growth, presence, and you will experience its infinite healing potential!

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About the author

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Tara Coyote

Tara Coyote is the owner of a horse retreat center, Wind Horse Sanctuary in Kaua’i, Hawaii. She is a certified Equine Facilitated Learning teacher and a life coach. Over the years, she has guided hundreds of people with private sessions, group workshops and ‘Grief Rituals with Horses’.

Tara’s memoir ‘Grace, Grit & Gratitude: A Cancer Thriver’s Journey from Hospice to Full Recovery with the Healing Power of Horses’ is a #1 bestseller on Amazon in eight different categories! Her book is about overcoming adversity, a deep dive into the challenges that come from loss, her own harrowing health journey and how her horses have played a significant role in her miraculous healing with cancer.

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