The Healing Power of Horses on Mental Health

Mia, the horse, and Queen share a special bond. Mia instantly recognized Queen when we arrived and walked up to greet her.

Amongst a calm setting, surrounded by nature, the people we serve in WellPower’s NextChapter (formerly 2Succeed) program are finding healing and personal growth in a unique way through Equine Assisted Learning.

“I recognized the people we serve have a love for animals and I’m always looking for unique services that might seemingly be out of their reach,” said Raymond Sedillo, vocational counselor. “We have worked with birds of prey and dogs, but we had not yet explored horses.”

The Body Language of Horses

In recent years, equine therapy has soared in popularity, giving rise to numerous programs and acronyms. Among these, Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) stand out, with distinct objectives. Equine Assisted Learning focuses on experiential learning and personal growth, while Equine Assisted Psychotherapy involves therapeutic interventions guided by licensed professionals, both harnessing the unique power of horses for transformational change.

WellPower’s partnership is with Mount Moriah Stables in Broomfield, Colorado. The stables were created to bring horses and people together for emotional, physical and spiritual healing. Debra Plant is the owner of the stables and a PATH International Equine Specialist who works alongside mental health and education professionals. As an equine specialist she not only provides a safe environment, but she is also able to focus on the horse and interpret its reaction, so she is able to give feedback during EAL and EAP sessions. 

Horses are exceptional therapy animals due to their heightened senses, particularly their awareness of non-verbal cues and energy. A horse may respond by being reluctant to work with someone who may be carrying anger or fear. A horse’s keen sense of perception allows them to respond to human emotions and intentions. “A horse’s response often shows up in their body language which we can read and interpret and give feedback to the client in the moment,” said Plant. “By recognizing their emotional state and how it affects those around them, we can work with the client to make changes and then re-engage with the horse.”  

The Healing Power of Horses

Both humans and horses emit electromagnetic energy from their heart which is measurable and plays a crucial role in their interactions. A horse’s heart is 10 times the size of a human heart and generates an electromagnetic field that is significantly larger.

This expanded electromagnetic range can have a soothing effect on individuals, contributing to the therapeutic benefits of equine-assisted programs. “It has been proven that working in close proximity to a horse can reduce our heart rate, it can reduce blood pressure, it can reduce the amount of cortisol (stress hormones) and it can also cause the feel-good endorphins to increase in us,” commented Plant. “So, by just being around horses, our moods are elevated and there is a physiological reason for that.”

After only a few hours each month, the people we serve become attuned to the heart resonance of the horses. To help build this connection, time is spent grooming and feeding the horses, engaging in breathing practices and leading the horses to designated areas. This connection often leads to insightful experiences, showing the influence these horses have had on their healing journey.

“This program brings up so much to heal,” said Queen, a participant in the program. “I never thought I would sing again, and I am singing. I am also clean from drugs and alcohol. And I’m talking to my family again. I joined this program because I like horses, but I didn’t know it was going to push me to do the things that I have been missing. I didn’t know it was going to be medicine.”

Another participant has been hesitant to engage with the community at NextChapter due to shyness but has found a remarkable transformation through the equine assisted learning program. The presence of these gentle giants has provided a unique sense of comfort and encouragement, boosting his confidence. “These horses have taught me to have confidence in myself as well as confidence in them,” said Chris. “It’s one of the things I struggle with, and it hasn’t always been that way and I am so happy to be part of this program that helps facilitate my recovery.”

Debra is practicing the breathing technique with the horse

Finding Presence

Among the multitude of benefits of working with horses, the capacity to cultivate presence stands out. “The most precious gift these horses give us in a program like this is teaching us how to be present,” commented Plant. “If we can truly learn what it is like to be present in the moment and take it out into the world, I think this can be foundational in addressing any other issues once we understand that.”

The participants often practice a breathing technique that is a powerful method in equine assisted learning sessions. It involves the participant placing their hand on the horse’s chest, near the heart and engaging in synchronized breathing with the horse. The participant gently embraces or hugs the horse while maintaining the breathing to enhance the connection between them.

The practice encourages a state of mindful presence, where both the participant and the horse become attuned to each other’s energy and breathing patterns. This shared experience creates a deep sense of connection and can help reduce stress and anxiety.

“Breathing with a horse has really helped me,” commented Queen. “I started doing meditation because I have anger issues and when you put a hand on a horse’s heart and hug the horse for that moment, you connect, and your heart rhythm slows down. I’ve been so connected to the horse ever since.”

Horses in their unique way, demand your presence. It’s a reminder of the power of being fully engaged in the moment when working alongside these 1,000-pound sentient beings. “They can tell if you are in a leading position,” said Chris. “You need to be calm; you can’t be skittish or give them any sign of uncertainty. If my job in that moment is to be confident and present with them, it’s an honor. And it’s helping me on my way to healing.”

An Unfolding Journey

Through the gentle wisdom of the horses at Mount Moriah Stables, the people we serve are becoming aware of their behavioral patterns and embracing the power of presence while embarking on a path of personal growth. “This is helping me see growth doesn’t always have to be such a painful experience, there are nuggets along the way, and this is one of them,” said Queen.  “This horse puts a smile on my face again – I don’t need anyone else to do that, the horse allows me to be happy with me in the moment.” As we continue to witness the impact of this program with the people we serve, it’s clear that the journey toward healing and self-awareness is one filled with hope, respect and the support of these equine companions.