What is Equine Facilitated Learning?
In Equine-Facilitated-Learning (EFL), we invite horses to participate with us, on the ground, in specifically designed activities. Giving a person the opportunity to work one-on-one with a horse can have transformational and life-changing effects. Partnering with a horse allows us to learn about ourselves by getting us in touch with our feelings and emotional states.
Because the nature of this process is experiential, people tend to learn and discover things at an accelerated rate. We learn more by “doing” than by “being told” how to do something. Similarly, knowing something on an intellectual level does not hold the same power as “feeling” and “knowing” something intuitively, or viscerally. Horses give us the opportunity to discover and more deeply connect with this aspect of ourselves.
As prey animals, horses depend on their ability to “read” others for their survival. In the wild, horses live together in herds and work collaboratively to ensure the safety and survival of their herd mates. Because of this, horses have developed into highly sensitive beings. They depend on this sensitivity to detect subtle changes in the environment and other animals. This is used to inform them about potential danger and possible threats. To communicate with each other, horses employ a wide and nuanced range of gestures, postures and movements. As a result, horses have become Masters at non-verbal communication. They have a remarkable ability to pick up on extremely subtle cues and detect the slightest of changes.
Other prey animals also share some of this sensitivity, but what is specifically unique to the horse is the relationship they have with humans. We have a shared history with the horse that goes back for centuries. Horses have been beasts of burden, plowing our fields and carrying us on their backs. We have employed the horse in hunting and herding cattle. We have used them in battle, oftentimes sacrificing their lives in the process. For hundreds of years, they were our primary mode of transportation. The horse has been raced, paraded, shown and sometimes even slaughtered for food. We have been both predator and partner to the horse throughout history, and our paths, for better or worse, are intimately entwined. Perhaps it is in part due to this unique relationship that the horse has become so particularly adept at reading us!
There’s an old saying, “You can’t lie to a horse.” As it turns out, this is a very true statement. In fact, it’s one of the greatest benefits we receive by working with these amazing animals. Humans often mask their true feelings. We do this for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s to protect ourselves or to hide our vulnerabilities. Other times, it’s done to save face or to manipulate someone. Whatever the reason, people can become so accustomed to this behavior that they lose their awareness of it. Horses have the ability to read past the facades and uncover our true emotions, whether we’re initially aware of them or not. They help us decipher our sensations and pay attention to our emotional states. By doing this, they get us in touch with what we are really feeling and they help us build personal integrity.
It seems that horses are very good at “riding” between the physical and the spiritual. They live very much in the present, but they are extremely intuitive, as well. Their ability to sense truth and to bring us into deeper levels of self-awareness is almost mystical.
In my personal experience, I have found that to be in harmony with the horse, one has to be present, living in the Now. To truly connect with a horse requires honesty. Horses ask us to behave in a manner that is congruent to what we are thinking and feeling in each moment. In other words, horses respond best to us when we are true to ourselves. This is the only door through which one becomes truly connected to the horse. If we are willing to walk through this door with the horse as our partner, then the horse gifts us with a heightened understanding of our true nature and how we are all connected.