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, acting out of anger or frustration simply 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 us many things, even when we don’t think we’re 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 provides opportunities for girls to recognize and overcome issues that can be 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. What we discover is 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 incongruity of which is rarely conscious, but obvious to the horse and affecting 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, frightened to confident. The positive effect on the participant is life changing as they realize for themselves, they are able to dramatically change their relationships with the horses for the better. 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 student’s human to human communication. So much of human communication is nonverbal, working with horses helps our students to be more aware of the signals they are sending with their body language. Standing tall, chin and eyes up, and picking 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 am capable of being a leader; from there we work on leadership skills.
Students learn to present themselves with calm, assertive, 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, and not from physical force. Physical force and intimidation will not result in a respectful or meaningful partnership and makes working with a horse very difficult. Horses are prey animals. Meaning 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, a leader they will look to for guidance and assurance. We teach the students the concepts of leadership and have them complete activities with their equine partner that will help establish this hierarchy.
What the Girls Say About Our Equine Therapy
Equine Therapy is a favorite part of the KCGA program. It is both enjoyable and informative. Girls often begin with reservation and end with confidence, knowing that not only have they earned trust with their horse but also learned a lot about themselves along the way. Here is what they say they learned…
I learned how to calm myself and be strong for 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 think I could’ve been stronger, but I don’t think I was the absolute 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 really felt at peace riding her and felt like I could trust her, I hope to really 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 through. – A. S.
I learned that I should have more strength in my life and not be so scared and take more baby steps during my life and let things slid. – 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 really want her to trust me. I love her so much. She’s so beautiful! – E. A.
You need firm boundaries in relationships. It’s better to get to open up and be vulnerable in a relationship and have to say goodbye, then to never experience the joy of having that relationship. – C. G.
My horse was sorta abandoned and I bet she feels that still. – M. H.
My horse actually listened to me and it made me think of God’s faithfulness. – M. G.