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Why Horses?

The Healing Power of Horses: Well-being and  Mental Health

Beezie, the horse, and Guest share a special bond.

Beezie instantly recognized Guest when she arrived and walked up to greet her.

Amongst a calm setting, surrounded by nature, the people we serve at Hudson Valley HorsePlay are finding healing and personal growth in a unique way through Equine Assisted Learning.  HorsePlay was created to bring horses and people together for emotional, physical and spiritual healing. Cori Nichols is the owner of the stables and an Eagala Equine Specialist who works alongside mental health and education professionals. As an equine specialist she not only provides a safe environment, but she is also able to focus on the horse and interpret its reaction, so she is able to give feedback during EAL and EAP sessions. 

“I've been a lifelong horsewoman and am still, daily, wowed, rejuvenated, and inspired by the horses I live with and care for and collaborate with" says HorsePlay founder Cori Nichols. "And the more people we serve, the more I see and feel that it's not just me!. Being with horses has an extraordinary effect on people from all walks, of all genders, abilities,.

The Body Language of Horses

Horses are exceptional therapy animals due to their heightened senses, particularly their awareness of non-verbal cues and energy. A horse may respond by being reluctant to work with someone who may be carrying anger or fear. A horse’s keen sense of perception allows them to respond to human emotions and intentions. “A horse’s response often shows up in their body language which we can read and interpret and give feedback to the client in the moment,” said Nichols. “By recognizing their emotional state and how it affects those around them, we can work with the client to make changes and then re-engage with the horse.”  

In recent years, equine therapy has soared in popularity, giving rise to numerous programs and acronyms. Among these, Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) stand out, with distinct objectives. Equine Assisted Learning focuses on experiential learning and personal growth, while Equine Assisted Psychotherapy involves therapeutic interventions guided by licensed professionals, both harnessing the unique power of horses for transformational change.

The Heart Power of Horses

Both humans and horses emit electromagnetic energy from their heart, which is measurable,

and plays a crucial role in their interactions.

A horse’s heart is 10 times the size of a human heart and generates an electromagnetic field that is significantly larger.

 

This expanded electromagnetic range can have a soothing effect on individuals, contributing to the therapeutic benefits of equine-assisted programs. “It has been proven that working in close proximity to a horse can reduce our heart rate, it can reduce blood pressure, it can reduce the amount of cortisol (stress hormones) and it can also cause the feel-good endorphins to increase in us,” commented Nichols. “So, by just being around horses, our moods are elevated and there is a physiological reason for that.”

After only a few hours each month, the people we serve become attuned to the heart resonance of the horses. To help build this connection, time is spent grooming the horses, engaging in breathing practices, and leading the horses to designated areas. This connection often leads to insightful experiences, showing the influence these horses have had on their healing journey.

“This program brings up so much to heal,” said Another Guest, a participant in the program. “I never thought I would make art again, and I am painting. I am also clean from drugs and alcohol. And I’m talking to my family again. I joined this program because I like horses, but I didn’t know it was going to push me to do the things that I have been missing. I didn’t know it was going to be medicine.”

Another participant has been hesitant to engage with the community at school due to shyness but has found a remarkable transformation through the equine assisted learning program. The presence of these gentle giants has provided a unique sense of comfort and encouragement, boosting his confidence. “These horses have taught me to have confidence in myself as well as confidence in them,” said Brian. “It’s something that's been hard for me., I've become a different kid. It's really changed things for me.”

Finding Presence

Among the multitude of benefits of working with horses, the capacity to cultivate presence stands out.

“The most precious gift these horses give us in a program like this is teaching us how to be present,” commented Nichols. “If we can truly learn what it is like to be present in the moment and take it out into the world, I think this can be foundational in addressing any other issues once we understand that.”

The participants often practice a breathing technique that is a powerful method in equine assisted learning sessions. It involves the participant placing their hand on the horse’s chest, near the heart and engaging in synchronized breathing with the horse. The participant gently embraces or hugs the horse while maintaining the breathing to enhance the connection between them.

The practice encourages a state of mindful presence, where both the participant and the horse become attuned to each other’s energy and breathing patterns. This shared experience creates a deep sense of connection and can help reduce stress and anxiety.

“Breathing with a horse has really helped me,” commented Guest 3.  “I started doing meditation because I have anger issues and when you put a hand on a horse’s heart and hug the horse for that moment, you connect, and your heart rhythm slows down. I’ve been so connected to the horse ever since.”

Horses in their unique way, demand your presence. It’s a reminder of the power of being fully engaged in the moment when working alongside these 1,000-pound sentient beings. “They can tell if you are in a leading position,” said Guest 3. “You need to be calm; you can’t be skittish or give them any sign of uncertainty. If my job in that moment is to be confident and present with them, it’s an honor. And it’s helping me on my way to healing.”

 

An Unfolding Journey

Through the gentle wisdom of the horses at Hudson Valley HorsePlay, the people we serve are becoming aware of their behavioral patterns and embracing the power of presence while embarking on a path of personal growth. “.  “This horse puts a smile on my face again – I don’t need anyone else to do that, the horse allows me to be happy with me in the moment.” As we continue to witness the impact of this program with the people we serve, it’s clear that the journey toward healing and self-awareness is one filled with hope, respect and the support of these equine companions / teachers / role models.

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