Whilst it is tempting to frame the horse with mystical qualities that explain its success in therapy, the horses response to people is not found in any supernatural source, nor is it merely coincidental.
Within a herd, communication and cooperation are paramount. Each member relies on the
others for their safety and survival. Prey animals, such as horses, are highly sensitive, attuned to minute changes in movement, posture and respiration rate. With almost 360 degree eyesight, ears that can turn in any direction and a sense of smell that can detect changes in hormones, horses pick up everything from our heart beats to our adrenaline levels and our intentions based on our posture, speed and body position.
Horses are large and powerful, imposing but gentle and give us the opportunity to overcome our fears and self doubts. A horse will respond differently to the mood, attitude and intentions of their handler.
They reflect back our emotional state from moment to moment. As our internal state can affect theirs, the reverse is true. Grooming or petting an animal has consistently been shown to lower human heart rates. Further, positive interactions increase our ability to regulate our behavioural, cognitive and emotional states and allow us to transfer these skills to other areas of our lives.
The size of a horse makes it impossible to push around, but bully them and you'll not win any favours. To work with a horse you need to learn how to be assertive in a healthy way and build a relationship with them based on trust and communication. Spending time with horses can increase confidence, emotional awareness, self esteem and problem-solving skills. Plus, they smell so good!