The exact origin of horses is not known, though they are thought to have originated near the Thaelon Forest and from there spread out, either due to land bridges to other continents, or else being taken to other areas by man.
It is believed that horses were one of the first domesticated animals. They are most definitely one of the most useful of animals–transportation, load bearing, and even has martial uses. There are many species of horse found throughout the world, and they have varying characteristics/personality.
Horses perceive us in a pure way, undistracted by words, appearance or social standing. The beauty of 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 tuned into every nuance a person makes, and give immediate feedback.
A horse is a non-judgmental friend, but often a rider must adapt or change his or her own behavior in order for the horse to respond. Like us, horses have different personalities, so what works with one horse won’t work with another–not unlike humans. Horses also require people to engage and persevere in challenging physical and mental work, a characteristic which once learned, becomes in handy in dealing with life’s many intimidating and challenging situations.
What about horses gives them a place as ‘man’s best friend?’ They’re big and powerful, which means riders and groomers need to overcome fear and develop confidence. Horses sense the level of confidence of a person. Having ridden horses from toddler age, I can attest to their innate ability to see right through a person immediately.
According to Edward Cumella, PhD, director of research at the Remuda Ranch treatment center in Wickenburg, Arizona, horses, readily see our fear, feelings of inadequacy, sorrow and anger. Cumella posits, “Horses’ sensitivity to nonverbal communication assists patients in developing 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 West coast offer equine-assisted therapy to help people with everything from drug addiction to cancer recovery. Horses and humans have always enjoyed a special relationship. Ancient Greeks first documented therapeutic use of riding horses in 600 B.C. In 1875, a French physician first supported a study of the value of riding-as-therapy through 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.
Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding in Tennessee, horseback riders with spina bifida experience the exhilarating rolling movement of walking for the first time via the four legs of a horse rather than their own two.
I spent nine months interning at Green Chimneys, Brewster, New York, horses from Iceland help emotionally troubled kids learn how to create independence and self confidence. Having grown up with horses, it was awe inspiring to see the children move from fear of being near a horse to wanting to have the horse sleep with them.
Remuda Ranch helps children with eating disorders gain greater self-acceptance and confidence with themselves. At Medicine Horse in Colorado, at-risk teen girls coping 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 repercussions–biting, head butt, bucked off, their refusal to cooperate or kicked. 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 and human vs animal situation.
That is the alchemy of horse-assisted therapy. Put a horse and a human in breathing distance and something inexplicable occurs–a communication that only they understand. Diane Kennedy, a psychotherapist, registered riding instructor and founder of the 10-year-old program Medicine Horse in Boulder, Colorado, believes, “Horses mirror our emotions, thoughts and feelings.” Observing how horses reaction–how we interpret their behavior–can help therapists untangle the murky issues of their clients. The horse becomes a transitional object,” she explains, “a creature with whom it is safe to be intimate and who returns the same love given. People get familiar with what that kind of solid connection feels like and can take that knowledge into everyday life.
“Horses are uniquely sensitive, providing a nonverbal vehicle for people to access their emotions, which can accelerate the pace of healing,” states, Dr. Allen Hamilton of the 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 animal energy has medicine for humans and that each person has an animal as a source of guidance.
“Horse is a physical power and unearthly power. In shamanic practices throughout the world, Horse, enables shamans to fly through the air and reach heaven. Humanity made a great leap forward when Horse was domesticated, a discovery akin to that of fire. Horse was the first animal medicine of civilization. Today we measure the capacity of engines with the term ‘horsepower,’ a reminder of the days when Horse was an honored and highly-prized partner with humanity [on a daily basis].” Jamie Sams and David Carson, Medicine 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, simultaneously rescues at-risk teenage girls coping with mood or attention disorders that can have severe consequences. Under the guidance of a trained facilitator, the horses become the girls’ nonjudgmental ally, helping them figure out how to set boundaries, relate to others and build trust without getting hurt in the process.