An Insight into Equine Facilitated Learning

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Having ponies when I was young taught me many things; responsibility, structure, organisation and also, how to be calm. Many of us are spending more time in front of computer screens, trying to fit so many things into our schedule, our lives become like a rat race with our brains constantly ticking over to-do-lists. We are now so rarely living in the moment, that many of us are suffering from mental health issues, such as anxiety and stress. A true release from this, is to try and live in the now, be present, and to connect with nature. The second we do, we feel a release, we suddenly remember who we are, why we are here, and as we do this, we gradually feel the tension and stress of our everyday lives disappear. And this is exactly what happened to me when I visited Hephzibah Horses.

Emma and Seve at Hephzibah Horses

Equine Assisted Learning is a therapy using horses, this is a psychology and neuroscience evidence based therapy that helps you to understand your personal story. Horses are prey animals that don’t judge you, but mirror your state, the calmer you are; the calmer the horse is. It can also help you learn to create healthy boundaries for yourself, and learn how to be present and in the moment. I had never hear of Equine Assisted Learning before, so I went along to try it out. As I drove there I took in the scenery; Hephzibah Horses is in a simply perfect location, set down a quiet road in rural Kent, in a beautiful Oast House with green fields all around. There are bespoke fitted stables, training paddocks, and stunning surroundings; the whole set up quite took my breath away.

Emma Rourke the founder showed me around,  and gave me an insight into what she does here. I instantly liked Emma, she is warm, approachable, very calm, and being a former dancer and model, very graceful and beautiful too. As I took in the beauty of my surroundings, I instantly felt relaxed and calm. We started with a relaxation exercise, and all I could hear were the birds and the silence of nature, it was such an amazing experience; I just felt at peace. We then went and met all of the horses – I picked a horse called Seve to work with. Seve is a rehomed former Spanish bull fighting horse. He is an absolute stunner – I was struck by how well cared for and loved the horses are here, and his beautiful coat and muscular body reflected this. I felt quite overwhelmed working with him; his sheer strength, beauty, yet calm demeanour, really touched my soul.

I asked Emma to explain exactly what we were doing;

What is Equine Assisted Learning?

Equine Assisted Learning is partnering with horses as sentient beings to discover how they reflect our inner life. The horses themselves are co-facilitators to enable people to discover what their body and senses are telling them, which is often ignored, as we live in our heads most of the time. We are so distracted with modern living, that we have become disconnected from ourselves, and others and find it difficult to stay in the here and now. It is a gentle, non-judgemental way of becoming self-aware, and has transformative results with many common problems from anxiety to PTSD. The horses are great teachers and help us to regulate our emotions at core level. It is an evidence-based methodology IFEAL (International Foundation for Equine Assisted Learning), rooted in neuroscience, psychology, mind/body awareness and is used as a life coaching tool, psychotherapeutic intervention or simply as a way to connect with yourself, nature and horses.

What are the Benefits?

The benefits of Equine Assisted Learning are many and transformative. People can change from anxious to confident, learn to relate and communicate better with themselves and others. People experience a clarity in their lives, healing of emotions in a safe way. A practical application to take into everyday lives. The transformation of negative mind-sets to positive ones, (brain science neuroplasticity), helping people heal from traumatic experiences, boundaries can be learned with the horses as teachers to enable people to communicate and relate better in their personal and professional lives. Connection from relationship and unconditional love.

The love between Emma and her horses is clear

How does it work?

Horses are prey animals, in the wild they stay in herds and their natural instinct is flight, to run from danger. They read us emotionally from their large hearts and are able to detect the slightest nuance in our physiological make up. They can feel when we are fearful, sad, happy or angry. They don’t rationalise like we do or plan, they just live from moment to moment, react to what is “now”, and when the perceived or real danger is over, go back to grazing/peaceful state. What makes them such wonderful co-facilitators is that they know when someone is not being honest in their emotions. How many times when we are asked how we are do we say “fine”? when the reality may be quite different. Sometimes we hide our emotions so well, that they become embodied and stuck and they may come out in unwanted behaviour or even illness. The horses give us honest bio feedback, which when acknowledged can help people to transform from denial to congruency and begin to feel safer, happier and more at one with themselves and the world.

Emma’s peaceful garden 

Describe What a Session Consists of

A session consists of 90 minutes, initially an assessment is taken to clarify if/how EFHD may be able to help you. It is a bespoke programme for each person, that involves, mind/body awareness techniques, observational and practical exercises, an interaction with a horse, which may be reflective or active depending on what is needed. There is no riding involved with the session, all are conducted in a professional manner and safely. There is no need for any experience of horses. It is even suitable for those who may be scared of horses as everything is tailor made for you personally. There will be a debrief, information to take away and an email assessment within 48 hours, to discuss findings and future proposed work.

Seve keeping cool in the heat

How long is each course?

Because each person’s needs are different, a bespoke programme is designed for the individual. An initial assessment is the first step, and thereafter a contract for services would be drawn up to find the best practice for the individual. I would recommend a minimum of 6 sessions every 2 to 3 weeks for optimum results. Each person would be on a case by case basis.

Emma’s dogs enjoying the peace and quiet

Who would benefit from this Equine Assisted Human Development Session?

Everyone benefits from these sessions, whether they have a specific problem they would like to overcome or are just curious to know more and love horses. It has had particular success with Anxiety, Depression, PTSD (veteran programme Dare to Live), domestic abuse, life challenges, divorce, bereavement, addictions, leadership programmes in business, relational communication, autism, learning difficulties. People with their own horses who would like a better connection with them.

Equine Facilitated learning

I really enjoyed working with Seve, and the whole experience brought back a memory to when I was young, and once got a very nervous, highly strung pony. The pony was hard to handle, and I wanted her to participate in all my pony club activities. My riding instructor taught me to be calm around her, as she would pick up my feelings and reflect them. I spent time with Smartie earning her trust, and was very sensitive to her fear of her head halter, or being groomed. I took things slowly, one step at a time, and soon enough, Smartie turned into a wonderful pony, letting me plait her mane and tail, and even grew confident enough to take part in one day events at Pony Club. She was a keen show jumper and taught me to trust her; I did the highest jumps I had ever done, and even won rosettes. It was a strong trusting partnership, and it’s a lesson in trust I’ve never forgotten.

What if, when we are around nervous or highly strung people, we try to stay grounded and keep calm, no matter how much they rock us. It’s an interesting practise, and would mean you couldn’t be flustered by someone’s else’s state. It might not always be possible in every event and situation, but when you think we naturally go into flight or fight response, even over something small, like forgetting to send an email, it’s crazy! Maybe if we can practise these methods for the small stuff, then when we are truly faced with a large crisis, we might have better coping skills.

I had such a lovely morning with Emma and her horses, and I can highly recommend a session with Hephzibah Horses, if you would like a chance to escape from it all. I came away feeling relaxed, calm, and peaceful, yet overwhelming empowered!

If you would like to try Equine assisted Learning you can email Emma here. The initial cost of an assessment is £45, thereafter sessions cost £65 for 90 minutes, payable before each session.

Or you can follow Hephzibah Horses on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

If you try this therapy please let me know in the comments below, I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. You might also be interested in this post on meditation and how to get started!

Natalie x

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