How Working With Horses Can Help Boost Your Mental Health. Hello everyone, I hope you are well. In today’s post, I will be sharing a guest post from Emma Hutchison, co-founder of HorseBack UK. HorseBack UK is a multi-award-winning Scottish charity based near Aboyne, in the Scottish Highlands. Emma will be sharing with us how working with horses can help boost our mental health.
How Working With Horses Can Help Boost Your Mental Health
Horses are amazing creatures. They are sensitive and communicative and can help us create new emotional responses. Many ways working with horses can help humans with their mental health.
One of the most common mental health problems is acute anxiety. Worry lives in the future; it feeds off the disaster scenarios of what might happen. To connect with a horse and reassure a horse, you need to anchor yourself in the present moment. As you do this, you can’t start running those familiar catastrophes in your head: you are here, now, with this living creature in front of you, with your feet planted in the good earth.
Dealing With Emotions
Working horses well also teaches you about being aware of emotions. Horses are prey animals, so they have evolved over millions of years to sense emotion and intention from half a league away. If you bring unresolved anger or frustration, or fear to the field, the horses feel it like they feel a storm coming. So, we have to learn to be aware of our emotions, give them a name, and process them.
Doing this can lead to the beautiful realisation that some emotions are helpful and others aren’t. Working with horses helps us to recognise which emotions are helpful and which are not.
For example, anger is never used with a horse; a furious human will result in a nervous and defensive horse. If you want to connect with a horse, you have to let the anger go. Anger has no place in that relationship. Again, this becomes a mental habit, and the more you practice, the more you can acknowledge negative or painful emotions, look at them for what they are, and release them. Then you are back with your horse in a positive space.
Horses adore stillness. Humans who work well with horses become very conscious of their bodies; the body language, the way the body feels, how they hold themselves. The horse sees all this and reads it as if it were a billboard in Piccadilly Circus – which is why awareness of your body and aiming for a position of stillness and calm is so important. Again, practising this helps create the habit and makes it easier to draw on this stillness when needed.
Since the mind and the body are closely connected, learning to be aware of your body can provide considerable help when dealing with troubles in mind. Many difficult emotions get stuck in the body; tension in the shoulder, fear in the stomach, anxiety pressing on the head. Before working with a horse, take a body audit, and make sure everything is relaxed so that positive energy can move through your body and transmit itself to the horse. This is beneficial for both horse and human and means we (both) start in the right state.
The basic foundation of working with horses is awareness. If you learn to be aware of your mind and the stories it is telling you, your emotions and what they are saying, and your body and how it is reacting to those stories and feelings, then you’ve got a head start in working well with a horse – and looking after your mental health.
At HorseBack, we support veterans by helping them develop a toolbox of techniques to keep them mentally healthy – and horses are the catalyst and the feedback mechanism. We’ve witnessed so many people make breakthroughs when they connect with a horse. They feel intensely moved, or calmed, or even consoled. They build a sense of love and responsibility to the horse, setting up a beautiful, virtuous circle. The human’s mind settles, so the horse’s mind settles too, and then they go on together.
And perhaps most importantly, as this connection is made, the veterans know that they are not alone. They’ve got a precious partnership with this kind, strong, sentient creature. They are in it together. One of the most debilitating symptoms of mental health struggles is an acute feeling of isolation. When we put our veterans with our horses, those veterans are no longer isolated; they have a partner and a purpose, which makes all the difference.
Working with horses can bring so many benefits – even just a short session with a horse and a trained facilitator can create significant breakthroughs. And regular contact can help support people through their mental health recovery and help keep them healthy – even when life delivers something unexpected or challenging. As you practise being still with a horse, your brain will build itself a new neural pathway. This helps to make bringing your mind back to the present easier and more accessible. It becomes a mental habit, and you then have that resource available to you. You have a new tool in your toolbox.
I hope you enjoyed that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Emma Hutchison is co-founder of HorseBack UK, a multi-award-winning Scottish charity (registration number SC040765) based near Aboyne, in the Scottish Highlands. HorseBack UK works to improve health and well-being by inspiring recovery, positive change and renewed purpose amongst those who need it most and enhancing education and employment prospects for disadvantaged or marginalised.
Using horsemanship, equine-assisted learning, rural skills, and the outdoors, the charity delivers award-winning projects and personal development programmes that encourage participants to acquire new coping strategies, life skills and lasting resilience whilst gaining nationally recognised awards and qualifications.