The horse-human partnership stretches far beyond the barn or arena. Lessons learned with horses help with human-to-human interactions and problem-solving capabilities. Through horsemanship, we cultivate poise and critical thinking. Students learn that horses are prey animals, and acting out of anger or frustration does not get you far with them. A big lesson in horsemanship is learning to breathe, remain calm and think through situations. Horses can teach many things, even when we don’t believe we are learning. They act as a medium for us to find attributes and skills within ourselves and help to strengthen our minds and bodies.
The equine therapy experience is often a highlight of the student’s time here. Interaction with horses in various situations allows girls to recognize and overcome issues hindering their personal and interpersonal relationships. Students learn by doing. Horses can be “powerful teachers” as they respond to the herd around them. With the help of skilled facilitators and challenging activities, experiential learning becomes a type of self-therapy, as the girls learn to calmly and confidently handle any relational challenge.
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you.” Job 12:7
As girls work with horses, they can feel an authentic paradigm shift — a visceral experience in developing congruency between our hearts’ intentions, our minds’ agenda, and the hidden feelings we emote with our body language. We discover that the body has a mind of its own — that while our mind may be saying one thing, our body may be doing another — the paradox is rarely conscious but evident to the horse and affects the desired outcome. As participants develop moment-to-moment conscious awareness for their body language, “miracles” happen, and the horses change — their behavior changes from bad to good, from distracted to focused, from stressed to calm, from defiant to humble, and frightened to confident. The positive effect on the participant is life-changing as they realize for themselves they can change their relationships with the horses dramatically. But, it’s always the same — how people interact in life is revealed as they work with the horse.
With each class, communication skills are developed and refined. Horses are masters of subtle communication; a wrinkle of the nose or a flick of an ear is all they need to do to send a strong message to one another. Horses are also great at reading and responding to human body language. Working with horses is a great way to improve students’ human-to-human communication. So much of human communication is nonverbal; working with horses helps our students be more aware of the signals they send with their body language. For example, standing tall, chin and eyes up, and pick up their feet when they walk with the horses. All these seemingly simple things send a clear message to the horse, I am strong. I can be a leader; from there, we work on leadership skills.
Students learn to present themselves with calm, assertiveness, and authority when asking a horse to complete a task—walking or riding with their head up, looking where they are going so they can effectively lead the horse. Moving with a purpose that demands respect from their equine partner and learning that leadership comes from within, not from physical force. Physical force and intimidation will not result in a respectful or meaningful partnership, making working with a horse difficult. Horses are prey animals. In adverse situations, they naturally see only two options: Fight or Flight. When you gain a horse’s trust and respect, you can prove yourself a worthy leader who they will look to for guidance and assurance. We teach the students leadership concepts and have them complete activities with their equine partner to help establish this hierarchy.
What the Girls Say About Our Equine Therapy
Equine Therapy is a favorite part of the Kansas City Girls Academy program. It is both enjoyable and informative. Girls often begin with reservation and end with confidence, knowing that they have earned the trust of their horse and learned a lot about themselves along the way. Here is what they say they learned…
I learned how to calm myself and be vital to my horse. I learned how to be consistent and how to gain respect without force. I learned how to guide Max and be gentle with him. I could’ve been more robust, but I didn’t think I was the worst. I hope Max has grown as much as I have. – S. S.
Today I rode Topaz and saddled her. She seemed pretty comfortable with me. I felt at peace riding her and felt like I could trust her; I hope to get to that point with God where I can fully let Him lead me. – H. B.
I learned that no matter what I go through, God will be there to guide me. – A. S.
I learned that I should have more strength in my life, not be so scared, and take more baby steps and let things slide. – S. D.
How so much fun I have had with my horse. I am trying to relax with her since she seems to know how I feel. I want her to trust me. I love her so much. She’s so beautiful! – E. A.
It would be best if you had firm boundaries in relationships. It’s better to open up and be vulnerable in a relationship and have to say goodbye than never to experience the joy of that relationship. – C. G.
My horse listened to me and made me think of God’s faithfulness. – M. G.
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