The growth in popularity and the recognition of the incredible results that Equine Facilitated Learning and Therapy can achieve is really wonderful for us humans, and for the horse, too. In EFL horses are valued for their wisdom, their spirituality, the way they live in the now and do not judge others. They are honest and generous-hearted, but they never lie - they reflect the truth. So, EFL is wonderful for them because they are being valued for the incredible gifts they have in teaching us and helping us to see things clearly and for the fact that all they need to be is their incredible selves to do this. It has nothing to do with the fact that they can be ridden or do what is often perceived to be 'their job', whether that's competing, teaching people to ride, being driven, being bred from or winning prizes for us.
This has been a long time coming. For centuries horses have been, yes, revered, but also used - for transport, for wars, for sport and many other occupations that we have forced on them and they have willingly carried out. They have adapted to our way of keeping them, despite the fact that every foal is born wild and as flight animals their instinct is to resist being kept in a box or penned in a paddock, and certainly to let a 'predator' sit on their back. Nowadays, the glamour and tradition of horse sport masks what is really a deeply unnatural way of life for horses.
With EFL, EFP (Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy) and other Equine Facilitated therapies horses help humans heal and come to a peaceful resolution with a whole myriad of problems, from troubled children and relationship issues to addiction and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They even teach employees about themselves and their colleagues on corporate equine facilitated team-building days. Good EFL practitioners give the horses they work with the choice of whether they are comfortable to help the client or not, and if they do choose to do so, whether they can leave the area during a session, so the horse is always in control of how he or she is helping. They love to help people but they need to be able to choose who they can best help and whether it's a healthy prospect for them or not.
So, given this, horses (and ponies, donkeys and mules of course) certainly deserve some 'human facilitated therapy' themselves! And what could be better than some from us? We can be mindful therapists for them too. It's very simple to do, ridiculously simple, but to them it is very valuable.
One of the things that they most want is for us to spend time with them being our true selves. For us to strip back our outer layers of work, stress, home, other people's expectations, horsey-peer pressure and just BE. They find it very therapeutic for us to be 'in the now' with them, just as their herd would be. Too often our minds are elsewhere: running through to-do lists, untying the knots left from our day at work, worrying about something in the future. Our horses know this - they know exactly what our mind is doing and what we are thinking. They deserve the respect of having our undivided attention when we are with them, and not just in the 'doing' with them that we tend to do because we don't have the time to just 'be' without doing!
So, a good way of doing this is to plan to spend some time with your horse, just the two of you. Even if it's just ten or twenty minutes to begin with, spent with your horse in his/her stable or field when you're confident of being uninterrupted. Then, slow your breathing and clear your mind: concentrate on your breath and how it is being taken into your lungs and being pushed out again, how the oxygen that your lungs are taking in is flowing through your whole body. If a thought pops up, which it will do, send it off on a cloud, up into the sky to wait for later. Concentrating on something in the field or stable may help to keep your mind clear, but always be aware of your horse and his or her reaction - they are so subtle and the signs that they are beginning to relax and enjoy the atmosphere you are creating are easy to miss to begin with.
Let yourself admire your horse. Don't worry about him/her - we tend to worry too much as there always seems to be something to worry about with them and this can be very negative for them as we transmit these worries and negative thoughts without realising - just think to yourself what an amazing creature you have before you. Because they are incredible! And during this time together, just being, you are sure to notice something that you had never noticed about your horse before, too.
This is rather like meditation or mindfulness, but we don't need to give it a label as every human and horse combination will do this differently and will get something different from it. It is a very bonding exercise: it shows the horse that we respect them, that we value our relationship with him or her and we enjoy their company without them having to do anything for us. And, while this article is about giving back to our horses, it also happens to be incredibly good for us, too.
Horses are brimful with love - they have an abundance of love and compassion. An important aspect of what you are doing in this time together is creating a space for love to blossom and expand between you. This is incredibly important for your horse. The more you do this the more you will pick up intuitively (and again, this is different for every horse and human) things that your horse wants to tell you. This may seem like coincidence or your imagination to begin with, but you will begin to trust what your gut instinct is telling you, which is also very valuable for the horse.
Too often it is a one-sided conversation between humans and horses, but relationships and communication are really important to horses and if we show that we are listening to them it makes a huge difference to our relationship. So, the best thing you can do with the information that you feel you are picking up from your horse, even if at first you don't 100% trust that it is coming from the openness that you have created with your him/her, is to act on it. This is also very important - too often we fail to act on what we believe they want. If you act on it trust will grow between you and your relationship will have very strong roots.
It may be something very small (he or she doesn't like his haynet, for example) which is easy to fix or it may mean needing to be strong enough to speak out and be your horse's voice with another horse professional - if this is the case remember that your horse can't speak and all he or she has is you to do the right thing.
You will find that you pick up on things in your day to day life with your horse, even when you are not sharing this time together as your horse trusts that you are listening. If you feel that your horse doesn't want to be ridden on a particular day, for example, trust this and don't ride just because you feel you should. We all have off days and he or she may have a headache, be feeling under the weather or just not want to - it's a wonderful feeling to give them the choice. And if you feel pressurised by others around you, just remember - you have a horse for the love of horses so your horse is who you should listen to!
Even though just 'being' with your horse it is a simple thing to do it takes practice, but it is very worthwhile and you will find yourself looking forward to these times. Your horse will be grateful for this special time together and at the end will show it in some way - again this can be subtle so watch out for it. Often it can be a touch of the muzzle to your hand or something similar.
You could try this with other animals too - they will all enjoy it in their different ways! They all operate in the 'now' and love it if we do too!