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Horse-Man’s Best Friend
The exact origin of horses is unknown, although it is thought that they originated near the Taelon Forest and spread from there, either due to land bridges to other continents, or else were taken to other areas by man.
It is believed that horses were one of the first domesticated animals. They are definitely one of the most useful animals – transport, load carrying and even have combat uses. There are many types of horses found all over the world, and they have different characteristics/personalities.
Horses perceive us in a pure way, unconcerned by words, appearance or social attitude. The beauty of the horse as a ‘best friend’ is that you can’t fool them. Horses teach us to be in the moment. Since horses have no distractions, they are attuned to every nuance a person makes and give instant feedback.
A horse is a non-judgmental friend, but often a rider must adapt or change his or her behavior in order for the horse to respond. Just like us, horses have different personalities, so what works with one horse won’t work with another – no different than humans. Horses also require people to engage and persevere in physically and mentally challenging work, a characteristic that, once learned, becomes useful in dealing with life’s many frightening and challenging situations.
What about horses gives them a place as ‘man’s best friend?’ They are large and powerful, which means riders and handlers must overcome fear and develop trust. Horses sense a person’s confidence level. Having ridden horses from a young age, I can attest to their innate ability to spot a person instantly.
According to Edward Cumella, PhD, director of research at the Remuda Ranch treatment center in Wickenburg, Arizona, horses easily see our fear, feelings of inadequacy, sadness and anger. Cumella asserts, “Horses’ sensitivity to nonverbal communication helps patients develop greater awareness of their own emotions and nonverbal cues, as well as the role of nonverbal communication in relationships.”
Treatment centers from the east to the west coast offer equine therapy to help people with everything from drug addiction to cancer recovery. Horses and humans have always had a special relationship. The ancient Greeks first documented the therapeutic use of horse riding in 600 BC In 1875, a French physician first supported a study on the therapeutic value of horse riding by using it to treat neurological and psychological disorders.
More than 10 studies in the past 20 years show that animal-assisted therapy — equine therapy is the most common — is effective in treating anxiety, autism, dementia, depression and attention deficit disorder, eating disorders and other emotional dysfunctions.
At Shangri-La Therapeutic Riding Academy in Tennessee, spina bifida horse riders experience the exciting rolling motion of walking for the first time through a horse’s four legs rather than their own two legs.
I spent nine months interning at Green Chimneys, Brewster, New York, Icelandic horses help children with emotional problems learn how to build independence and self-confidence. Having grown up with horses, it was amazing to see children go from being afraid of being near a horse to wanting to have the horse sleep with them.
Remuda Ranch helps children with eating disorders gain self-acceptance and greater confidence in themselves. At Medicine Horse in Colorado, at-risk teenage girls dealing with mood or attention disorders become more comfortable with themselves and develop supportive friendships based on honesty and respect. Disrespect a horse and you can expect consequences – biting, rearing, falling, refusing to cooperate or kicking. Rancho Bosque at Sunstone Cancer Center in Tucson, Arizona, clients learn that they have the power to be in the moment and control how they deal with a potentially dangerous, humane vs. animal situation.
This is the alchemy of equine-assisted therapy. Put a horse and a human within breathing distance and something inexplicable happens – a communication only they understand. Diane Kennedy, a psychotherapist, registered riding instructor and founder of the 10-year-old Medicine Horse program in Boulder, Colorado, believes, “Horses reflect our emotions, thoughts and feelings.” Observing how horses react—how we interpret their behavior—can help therapists untangle their clients’ dark issues. The horse becomes a transitory object, she explains, a creature with which it is safe to be intimate and which returns the same love given. People are familiar with that kind of strong connection and can take that knowledge into everyday life.
“Horses are extremely sensitive, providing a nonverbal means for people to access their emotions, which can speed up the pace of healing,” says Dr. Allen Hamilton of Sunstone Cancer Center at Rancho Bosque in Tucson, Arizona. He models his equine-assisted therapy on the Native American teaching that horses are a gift from the Creator and act as guides and spiritual brothers to the Sioux and Apache. Native Americans believe that animal energy has medicine for people and that every person has an animal as a source of guidance.
“The Horse is a physical force and a strange power. In shamanic practices around the world, the Horse enables shamans to fly through the air and reach heaven. Humanity took a great step forward when the Horse was tamed, a discovery similar to that of fire. The horse was civilization’s first medicine for animals. Today we measure the capacity of engines by the term ‘horsepower,’ a reminder of the days when the horse was an honored and highly valued partner with mankind. [on a daily basis]Jamie Sams and David Carson, Medical Cards.
Medicine Horse’s participation in the national Hope Foal Project, which rescues at-risk foals or mares kept confined and pregnant to produce estrogen for the hormone replacement drug Premarin, also rescues at-risk teenage girls facing mood or attention disorders who can have serious consequences. . Under the guidance of a trained facilitator, the horses become the girls’ nonjudgmental allies, helping them figure out how to set boundaries, connect with others, and build confidence without getting hurt in the process.
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