This is an old article (written in 2007) but the principals still apply. If you visit us you will discover Skye, Dubh and Disa are much older now (30, 31 and 22) but still wonderfully active members of the Healing Hooves Herd!
One of the most memorable lessons from my graduate studies was one of the simplest. I can clearly remember our professor taking a jug of orange juice and using it to fill a number of glasses. Before long the jug was empty and there was no juice left for the remaining glasses. “This will be you” she told us, pointing at the empty jug, “unless you learn to practice self care”. The basic message? A counselor can’t keep giving out and helping her clients unless she takes time to refill that metaphorical jug of orange juice.
At Healing Hooves we strongly believe that the horses who work with us are also counsellors; so it follows that our four legged co-counsellors and partners also need their jugs refilled, although they may prefer oats to orange juice.
My horses did not submit an application form stating they wanted a counselling position at Healing Hooves; they can’t lodge a complaint with human resources that they are being asked to do tasks outside of their job description; and they can’t ask their doctor to sign them off on stress leave. It is up to us, the humans they work with and depend upon, to ensure that EFW (Equine Facilitated Wellness) horses are happy in their work and are being treated with integrity and respect. I will attempt to explore ways to do this it in the context of some of the Healing Hooves horses, their individual needs and challenges. With each horse I will attempt to identify the key temptation or ethical pitfall they present. I will then discuss some of the ways we are trying to ensure we overcome those temptations to make sure we respect and protect our horses’ rights. Ensuring horses’ physical health and well being has been the subject of many articles and books written by many authors significantly more qualified on that topic than myself. Thus the focus of this article will be upon the emotional needs and challenges of horses within an EFW program.
Skye is my anxious horse. He has experienced abuse (from both humans and horses), grief, trauma and loss. And he wears his heart on his fetlock. Yet while Skye has many reasons not to trust he still looks for the best in people and is always the first one over to eagerly greet a new group of clients.
When I first met Skye nine years ago, he used to rear and/ or take off the moment he felt threatened in any way (a very regular occurrence as he was deathly scared of cows, ropes, blankets, other horses, cameras, hose pipes, water – you name it) and I saw the whites of his eyes almost all of the time. While he is now very different on the outside, and has in fact graduated from the bullied horse to the leader of my herd, he is still a fairly anxious horse on the inside. All of this makes him, when matched with the right client, an extremely effective therapy horse and he has helped many children and adults overcome their own fears and discover their own unique strengths and abilities.
So many hurting children – and adults – have found in Skye a soul mate who truly seems to understand their pain and to want to travel with them on their journey through that pain to true happiness. In this case I also speak from personal experience since Skye came to me at a very traumatic time in my life when I was very vulnerable and desperately needed that empathy and connection. However, his past experiences and his personality also make him very vulnerable, and I think he skipped the class which told him not to take his clients issues home with him. It would be easy, at least in the short term, to ‘use’ Skye to benefit my clients and myself at a cost to his emotional and mental health and well being.
So how do we make sure that we do not do this?
I closely monitor who gets to work with Skye. He does not handle angry clients well (and quickly picks up on the anger many clients hold under the surface) so I gently steer these clients towards a different horse. I tell people how sensitive he is and show them how to treat him gently, to read his body language, and to respect his feelings. And I debrief with him after virtually every session. It may be a quick hug and a kind word, or it may be a gentle trail ride. I find that Skye brings out the gentle side in my clients and that they become very protective over him – to the extent that I have to start watching for the other side of the coin where he gets cheeky and takes advantage of their concern to avoid doing any work!
Star right now is my problem child. Like Skye she too has experienced abuse, grief and loss. She’s been here for eight months now, and while we never will know the full details of what she has experienced, we are piecing it together from her behaviour and from the little we have been told. We know that she at one time had a reasonably stable home but somehow ended up at an auction where she was almost sold for meat. At that same auction she was separated from her un-weaned 3 year old colt to spend a year with a well meaning man with no horse experience and not enough time. During that time she was separated from her herd and left alone for many months; she gained about 300lb in weight. When she first arrived at Healing Hooves Star was very hard to catch and the moment she felt at all threatened turned to ‘fight’ mode and would line you up. The first time I brought her into my arena she didn’t stop trembling once. It has been a hard road for Star so far. She has improved significantly; she’s now relatively easy to catch, has lost about 200lbs, and hasn’t tried to kick me in at least a month. She’s shown me that she is very eager and able to learn and has responded very well to natural horsemanship training. And every so often she shows us the incredibly sweet and tender personality that she spends most of her time hiding underneath all that anger. However, she is now at a crossroads where she hasn’t quite committed herself to being here – she has progressed but she is still very easily triggered, she’ll do great one day then shun you the next. She is suffering in the herd as she flips from being timid to inappropriately aggressive. It seems like she hasn’t fully decided to trust us, herself or life in general. In this way she is very similar to a large proportion of my clients and as such is providing me with an unending amount of therapeutic material. At some level it is tempting to ask her to linger at those crossroads a little longer since her struggles are helping a lot of my clients understand theirs’. And if in the future it becomes clear that EFW is not the best work for her well being it could be tempting to keep her anyway, rather than finding her a private home where she can flourish. So how do I ensure that I do not submit to these temptations at the cost of Star’s mental and emotional health? I keep working with her to help her work these things through. I have a trainer helping and advising me on what she needs, and my clients and I celebrate every step forward she is able to take. If we do come to a stage where it becomes clear that this is not the best place or job for her then I will make the hard decision to start looking for a new home (with a good buy back clause of course!).
Dubh is what my clients like to call my ‘bad ass’ horse. He’s actually quite mellow nowadays but can certainly have his grumpy days and is extremely good at communicating when he is unhappy with you. In his younger days he was pony of the year in the US, competing and placing in horse trials at the intermediate level (despite being only 14.2hh) and was worth a lot of money. A few years later he was retired early for ‘behavioural problems’ and was described by his trainer as being ‘out of control’. We don’t know exactly what happened but are very pleased that he was still owned by the lady who bred him and that she decided to virtually donate him to us rather than expose him to potential harm if he remained on the competitive circuit.
When he first came to Healing Hooves Dubh was very suspicious of us – especially when I headed out to the fields with a grooming kit and the rest of my horses all lined up (OK jostled) to be groomed and fussed over. I got the distinct impression that he considered this all very unprofessional and didn’t understand why the horses were not all cross tied. He has calmed down significantly over the past five years and has even become tolerant. He is very popular with clients, especially those who have also been told they have a ‘bad attitude’; and they all want to ride him. However, Dubh is still a highly trained horse who was accustomed to being ridden by experienced riders and can sometimes have a short fuse and intolerance for too many inexperienced riders. So how do I ensure he remains safe for my clients to ride but at the same time feels fulfilled in his own life?
The answer to this one is simple: I ride him as often as I can. I take lessons on him. As he’s calmed down I’ve even started to jump him again. And when I don’t have enough time myself I pay a trainer to ride him. I also watch his behaviour very carefully and if he seems to be a bit grumpier than usual I know its time to head out on the trail to let off a little steam. While this is especially relevant for a horse like Dubh it is also a principal which I believe applies to all horses: No horse can be an EFW horse 100% of the time. After all as human facilitators we take time off and interact with many people other than our clients. Our horses need this too. This means plenty of pasture time with their herd mates and plenty of riding – including fun trail rides – by experienced riders.
On the graffiti wall in our barn a teenage client has written “Disa should be a Saint”. A 12.3hh Icelandic mare, she is calm, quiet and tolerant even by Icelandic standards. She is the horse that my two and four year old daughters ride; she works with special needs children, with the parents coming to family sessions who are terrified of horses, and with the timid child at camp who’d really prefer a guinea pig. Nothing seems to faze her and she seems to take everything in her stride; she certainly does seem to be a saint.
It is very tempting to simply assume that because she is so quiet and appears so unfazed by everything that we can do pretty much anything to her, ask anything of her and that she’ll be OK. It’s tempting to view her as the proverbial (and in my mind non existent) ‘bomb proof pony’. But just because she doesn’t show any stress on the outside does not mean she does not feel it on the inside. Just because she does not (yet) demand any special treatment does not mean that she does not deserve or need it.
So I require my clients and volunteers to show Disa the same amount of respect and courtesy as they show my other horses. We may match her with the scared client but we don’t allow a client to scream while riding her; while a client with unpredictable behaviour may be redirected from Skye towards Disa, that client is closely supervised and there is zero tolerance of any abusive behaviour. And I watch Disa closely for any more subtle signs of stress. While much of the above is specific to the individual horse and requires judgment and time to work out, there are also many general principals which apply to the well being of all EFW horses regardless of their individual personalities, needs and past experiences. These will inevitable reflect the values which you apply at your program and I believe deserve to be thought about, written down and communicated to all who participate in your program and interact with your horses. We do this through our Code of Ethics which has a section dedicated to how we treat our horses.
Learning to Walk the Talk
Leaving what I see as the most important point to last: you can talk values, write down ethical statements and debate your horses’ needs and rights till the cows come home. But what your horses really care about and what your clients really absorb is what you do. They care about action not words. It doesn’t matter how much you claim you respect or love your horse, if you don’t show it through what you do then your horses won’t trust you, and neither will your clients. Because whoever we are working with our relationship with our horses serves as a role model for our clients, gives our clients valuable information about how we – and others – might treat them and teaches them how to treat others – horses and people – in their lives.
I loved getting more back ground on these wonderful creatures!
This is a pretty old article Melanie – the ethical points are still highly relevant but the info on the horses is a little out of date! You will be getting some updated info on all of the horses in the experiential section of the course – or you can take a look at out ‘professionals’ page on the website: https://healinghooves.ca/meet-our-professionals/
what happened with Star?
we ended up rehoming her – actually with a former client who had a connection with her (and lots of horse experience). She did much better having just one person in her life.
It is so helpful to read about your experience with each of these incredible horses. So much to consider when looking at EFW and how to best work with each horse. I really appreciate learning about each horse and the different strengths and challenges they presented from the perspective of animal ethics and welfare.
Sue I love your touch point on contemplating the desire for Star to linger at her crossroads in life as you can envision how beneficial it would be to programming if she were to hang there longer.
For me this resonates deeply and I can see your dilema with your knowledge and experience of how applicable this would be to EFW service and the ethical challenge of potential harm to her by taking advantage of it.
Her present state offers up so many possibilities but at what cost.
From your further comments I see you chose the path that brings the best chances for her from your moral compass.
I didn’t see a photo of her, and perhaps this wouldn’t apply in her case.
But one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard and have experienced first hand many times is this, and I would like to share with the group;
Sometimes the horse who is most pleasing to look at on the outside, shiny coat, pulled mane, glossy hooves, shaved whiskers, the horse that stands in pastern deep straw in a clean box stall, safe from the bite or kick of another, the horse that rarely goes without a halter or a blanket for all occasions, the horse that stands out in the crowd, has the most issues.
Has the most behavioural issues, insecurities, lack of coping mechanisms and a lot of pain and unhappiness.
Sometimes the horse that comes in with a dirty coat, healed scars, ruffled mane, the horse that has run free, navigated the social structure of a herd, ever aware of potential danger or even uncertainties to the next meal or access to water, becomes a great partner.
Has an opportunity to have lived a horses life as it should be. Has skills and life lessons in the reflection of his eyes and is more adapt to face challenges and come out quicker on the winning side.
I’ve always loved this. And often reflect on how this analogy can pertain to humans too.
yes – definitely a powerful metaphor in there for us all!
It is so lovely to read about your herd and the way that you love and respect them as individuals and nurture them.
Each of my horses at home have such unique and varied pasts and personalities. I love being with them and experiences breakthroughs with them. It is such a privilege.
And your horse Disa reminds me of a Fiord at CTRA. Her name is Ember. She recently became a star when a video that the CTRA team put together unexpectedly went viral (I think I saw that Helgi already mentioned her earlier:) She is definitely a star in the program and like Disa, nothing seems to faze her but we definitely need to be careful not to take advantage of that, although as you said, it could be very easy to do.
I have noticed that one of the benefits of Covid has been the bit of extra time between sessions. It gives us that opportunity to spend some quality time massaging and communicating with or sometimes “just being” with these equine partners to allow them decompression time and opportunity for us to shower them with the appreciation they deserve.
I think I saw that video!
Thank you for sharing about some of your herd Sue. I see how one has to be careful not to take advantage of horses like Disa. I have a gelding that has a similar personality to Disa, I will be sure to watch him a little closer now.
I loved reading about all the different personalities/backgrounds of some of your therapists!
Thank you for writing about your herd Sue! I had very little time to get to know the horses that I work with when I first started with them. Now that I have been with them for a little over a year, I still have lots to learn, but am able to read them so much better now. We have a ‘Star’ in our group and we have a ‘Disa’ in our group and I just feel like it’s so important to check in with them before we have them engage with people they don’t know. I also feel like it speaks to the importance of spending the time to connect with our participants at the beginning of programs to see where their emotional energy is at and go back to those essential grounding exercises.
Such a good reminder that while I may be much more likely to keep an eye on our ‘Star’, that I have to make sure that just because our ‘Disa’ isn’t putting out any stress energy, doesn’t mean he isn’t taking it in!
Great points Janet and I agree, the Disa’s in our herd – who never seem to complain – are sometimes the ones we have to be more conscious and deliberate about attending to
This gives me a lot to think about and to consider as I grow a herd. Background has lots to do with the horse’s personality and experiences. Thanks for giving me more to think about and consider as I venture down this path.
I enjoyed reading about your horses and the considerations you make when partnering with the them.
I also feel like maybe “my” horse or the one I’m bonded to as my own, may not be a good fit, or ? I’m confused. I’m not sure where to bring this up, or if I missed something, but, because I have envisioned this at my home, I am struggling, with whether or not that is a good idea. As I am alone, although, I’d welcome help, but confidentiality comes into play. I also have to consider the safety of myself, my home and my herd. How do you manage these issues Sue? or anyone else? I could locate my practice at a nearby arena, and lease some of their horses too. Lots to consider and think about. Thanks
HI Charmaine – I work with all of my own horses at Healing Hooves and from my home. So it definitely can work. This would be a good discussion to return to within the scope of practice section of the course as so much will depend upon who you are working with, what you are doing and your scope of practice. It is also something you can gradually figure out and allow to evolve as you go. There are lots of different ways to set things up and people have been successful in various different situations including working from a facility they own and live at, or leasing a facility.
Plus, if you lease horses at a nearby arena, you don’t necessarily know their use and experiences that day, week, etc. So, there is a risk involved, a trust, etc. One has more control over a horses experiences, when they are at one’s place, as well as knowing their personality etc. etc. Feeling lots of conflict, and not that it needs to be all or nothing, or ever evolving, as I consider a Code of Ethics, all these things come to mind…..
Great article Sue! I have a Skye in my herd as well as a little Disa in the making! I can see how important it will be to protect each horse’s mental health and well being while allowing them to assist in healing the same in those who come to work with us! This article illuminates that concept beautifully.
Thanks Tammy – I’m glad it was helpful!
Disa reminds me of my horse Faith. She was a surprise baby from one of my rescue mares from the auction. She is so sweet and she will give anything to anyone. I think this is an important message that we need to be especially aware of how our extra sensitive horses/those that just want to give love are taken care of.
yes, the ‘givers’ and ‘caretakers’ are wonderful for this work, but they need to also be ‘given to’ and ‘taken care of’ – and usually they don’t demand this, and sometimes find it very hard to accept it when it is offered.
Yes exactly! So important to remember for our equine therapists, not just the human therapists. I feel like we don’t always remember this for humans let alone animals.
Yes exactly! So important to remember for our equine therapists, not just the human therapists. I feel like we don’t always remember this for humans let alone animals.
Great article on how horses can have good and bad days too and we need to really be watching them. It’s good that you have more than one horse incase it’s not a good day for the other. I will be working with someone else’s horses so I will have to get to know them well before I start.
great point Janet – it is very possible to do this work with other people’s horses but, as you note, building good relationships with those horses and getting to know then well is very important
nice to feel a connection ♥️ reading these again 🙂
I think this is such a great reminder to remember to listen to our animals and remember they too need self care. When we forget this, that is when we or the work might cause harm.
It’s so interesting reading that clients referred to Dubh as the “bad ass” horse! Has he mellowed over time?
Due to changes/loss in my herd over the past few years, and then very little business in 2020, I am thoughtfully re-evaluating my horses for this work as I refresh, and read through all of this excellent material. Mystic is my Shetland/Miniature who has just turned 11. She was orphaned at 1 month old at a neighbours and brought to Ravenheart for around the clock care/feeding. She took to the bucket of foal milk replacer immediately and started to graze, was accepted into the herd and “fostered” by Sugar. After giving her a brief “snaked-head” chase around the paddock, Raven allowed her, and her only, to share his hay pile or bowl. She was tiny, adorable, feisty, and a favourite for many clients, young and old, especially with those people more nervous around the larger horses.
With a group of highly energetic kids, she helped show them how their calm energy translated into her calm energy, while in a leading exercise. It was perfect as when the kids arrived in the van and got out full of noise and excitement after a 2-hour drive, the rest of the herd headed out to the field, not about to have any part of that. Mystic didn’t leave with the herd, but stayed for a great session.
Over the past couple of years she has developed laminitis which we are doing our best to manage with diet and exercise as appropriate, and after much reading and research to understand it all. She started to nip, mostly likely as a pain response, so we make sure she is feeling well if we do invite her to work with a client, and are very particular about who that is, and what we do with her. As many of our clients live in foster home situations, her story resonates for them. There are many “one step removed” stories we can share with the clients about Mystic. She loves to learn, does many tricks, is bold and brave, and I dearly hope we can keep her pain free and sound going forward with our new track system, etc. In the meantime, we carefully monitor her participation for her safety and that of our clients.
I’m so glad this little pony has you to care for her Carol! Disa has had chronic laminitis for years (exacerbated by cushings which she has also had for years) so I understand the balancing and constant management that goes into this. We have found it more possible to manage than we initially anticipated though – a good farrier makes a huge difference and the option for a grass free enclosure. I like the track system too – a wonderful way to keep them moving!
Action over words is so important! Children don’t want to hear so much talk (unless it’s a story) but ‘doing’ gets them out of their head and into movement, which provides opportunities for new experiences. Role modelling is such an effective way to engage and connect as well as inspire.
This always an amazing reminder of the horses Sue. Also a great reminder of the differences in all of us and the differences in the animals we work with. Relationship is everything for sure.
I agree Lisa!
Really great to get some background on your horses. Lots to think about when considering using a horse in EFW especially their emotions, temperament and mental health in dealing with clients and trying to match the horse and client up. Good reminder that horses need their grooming time and selfcare as much as we do.
Yes I agree with Johanna, it’s so great to hear their stories. I see the need more than ever to understand equine, or whatever species you’re partnering with, mind and emotions and to know how that species behaves in their natural environment. When communicating with my canine, I grow, and I think our relationship grows the more I understand the canine mind and nature. I appreciate your comment about what we do matters more than what we say. As Charlotte Mason says, atmosphere is key to a living education, and I think the atmosphere we create through our actions really speaks volumes to our clients. We can say one thing, but we must model it as well. I think being a living example is what the client remembers more than any facts we tell them.
I love how you express this here Dana: “being a living example is what the client remembers more than any facts we tell them.”
In trainings we explore the need for experience with and knowledge about the species you are partnering with and also with and about the individual animals, as there can be some significant differences in terms of needs, personalities, and behaviours.
It is really nice reading and learning the differences and commonalities between your horses. Just like people, we all have different stories, baggage and personalities.
It seems like you really know your horses and really get to know what they need and what may be harmful to them. These stories about the horses were awesome!
Thank you for sharing this beautiful article about four of your horses -as other have commented, your understanding of each of the horse and sensitivity to their unique and evolving needs (including their strengths and areas of potential vulnerability), and ‘walking the talk’ to act accordingly to support each horse in an ongoing manner is powerfully inspiring.
thank you Sonya!
So interesting to understand such different sensitivities have such great strengths to share with clients. So much knowledge behind pairing them with clients, and maintaining the equines personal needs as well.
What amazing stories. These souls teach us so much and give so much. Mine work at most 2 hours per day. They tell me if they want to work. Most of the time they are so willing. They live outside with a buffet , access to 70 acres and shelters with a warm water automated .trough. They deserve the best life..
These beautiful stories helped me to realize how this work requires us to have a deep understanding of who our equine partners are in all their complexity. Only then are we really able to take notice of what their emotional needs are. Thank you Sue!
You’re very welcome Julie, I’m glad you liked it! And I love how you express this!
These descriptions really bring your program to life, Sue. It’s lovely to read about their different backgrounds, experiences, and personalities, and to see how their strengths and challenges can present temptations to push them to meet our own goals rather than ensuring their well-being first. I love that you are willing to ask the hard questions, such as, “Will this work suit Star and be in her best interest, or will we need to find her a new home?” It’s a painful question, but one that shows your love and respect for Star’s well-being. I’d love hear what happened with Star! Did she come to accept her role at Healing Hooves and love her work, or did you end up having to make that difficult choice to find her a new home?
Thanks Andrea! We actually rehomed Star with the one client who she did incredibly well with. Not often that it can work out that way but this horse and client had an amazing connection and the client was also in a situation where she could have her own horse, so it was a good decision for all involved!
I enjoyed reading about your horses and the considerations you make when partnering with the them.
A fantastic read. I loved hearing each of their stories. This has always been in the back of my mind, concerned that I will be good enough to pick up on their needs and emotions, to not overlook something they are trying to tell me. Especially the good ol reliable ones. They are amazing animals and deserve to be treated as such.
Thank you for sharing your herd with us. What amazing animals and it speaks volumes to how intune you are with your horses. I thoroughly respect that you spend equal time to ensure your horse and human counsellors have self-care. I think as helpers, human or horse, we often let this part of our lives go without the right amount of care. It is important. I love the example about the orange juice and will definitely use this example the next time I am talking to my collegues about self-care.
What a wonderful read Sue!! I loved getting to know your herd and appreciating their stories, challenges, strengths and vulnerabilities. The story about the orange juice is a universal one and truly hits home on the self care front!
This was so helpful to learn about your horses Sue! I can echo Jody’s comment and my own anxiety on my journey to read and understand my horses better. This is so new to me and I am working with a trainer to better read my horses. I suspect a lot of this comes with practice and time spent together. My Theo is a big cuddle bug which ultimately is born of more anxiety and fear. He is a very sensitive and reactive horse and a soft touch when you ask him anything, where my Belle is very confident and brave and always seeking confident leadership. She prefers her space and wants to come to you on her own terms. She is a heavy touch and often will not respond unless she feels you are a confident leader and will have fun with her. Two very different horses so far, but I hope that lends some flexibility to the work and the clients. I am noticing they are both drawn to different people but I am still piecing together why. I just really hope I can learn to read them in more fine tuned ways to ensure they are not impacted by the work we do.
I’m new in exploring the healing power of the horse in client work and I continue to be amazed by how their personalities and their (sometimes very sad and unfortunate history) can facilitate client insight and growth. I also appreciate the complexity that comes with keeping the animal physically and emotionally safe by looking out for signs of distress. It must take a lot of experience to recognize stress in a calm and gentle horse like Disa!
Sue! I’m very curious to know if you’ve ever matched Dubh with clients who have anger-related problems or clients with borderline tendencies who may feel like they have a bad attitude about everything? If so, how did such interactions unfold?
I wouldn’t make this match nowadays as Dubh is almost 32 and can at times be less moderated in his expressions! In his younger days though I found many of my clients who had been told they had a ‘bad attitude’ were very drawn to Dubh and quick to discover the gentleness that existed not so far under the surface with him. It allowed for some great reframes and drawing out of the vulnerability that usually lies beneath the behaviours that often get people labelled. We would always do grounding and regulation work before moving to the horse interaction part though and much work can be don by simply observing and sharing stories about the horses
Thank you for sharing! An important reminder of the work that is sometimes needed before moving on to working with the horse.
I appreciate the vulnerability in recognizing our own temptations in regards to how we choose which horses to use. It’s tempting to use the rock stars all the time and let the more unpredictable horses stay behind, especially if it’s busy or we as human partners are tired. I’m routinely surprised by the performance of those seemingly underperforming horses when we are disciplined and focus on the uniqueness of each horse and how a bit unpredictability can lead to opportunities for catalysts in a session.
absolutely! And in EF we an do so much effective work ‘over the fence’ and/ or at a distance, which allows us to work with and learn from lots of different horses while keeping everyone safe!
Thank you for this insight. It reinforces the need to observe, recognize the unique traits of our horses and the need to also understand their past.
I worked at a trail riding stable one summer when I was a teenager and this article brings back memories of the horses that were used. They all had their own unique personality and for the most part you could tell when they had enough! Especially because most of the riders were inexperienced. We did have a few that we would just take out for a ride just to calm their mind and let them be…..we had some that were not used for a few days at a time, we had one that nobody could ride except the workers because she just wouldn’t allow non-experienced riders, but once we knew them and their personalities we could match them fairly well with riders so both could enjoy the ride….for the most part. I only worked there one summer and I honestly don’t know if these horses liked their job or not….I’m really respect any horse that is willing to have a new partner day after day and look after them for a brief interaction or amount of time then move onto the next. Takes a special something for sure.
It is so important to get to know each horse and what they are all about. I have one horse that is the preverbal “unicorn” and I too really watch her because it would be easy to overlook her needs because she isn’t the squeaky wheel.
I agree Jenn – those are the ones we have to be careful to remind ourselves to also pay attention to!
When I watched the “meet the herd” video I was drawn to Skye as well as the one cheeky mini. There is something calm about Skye, but also attentive. Loved this article
I agree with knowing your animal and all the subtleties and micro expressions that they give to communicate to us. Working with dogs and people I have noted a trend in the bahvioural issues I am presented with dogs and their owners. It is the handler not understanding or taking the time to watch for these bit sized communicators. Once this is established it becomes a more fluid relationship.
This is especially important in AAI to know your animal and when it is time to wind down the session.
I agrre Tanja – so often we miss our animals’ cues. In the horse world there is a lot of focus on being a ‘horse whisperer’ – but what matters more may be listening to our horses’ (and other animals’) whispers so they don’t have to shout. As usual we as people need to talk (and even whisper) a little less, and listen a lot more!
I have a horse not totally dissimilar to Star…interesting how they learn to survive and show their distrust. Part of my guys story is also around being separated from his herd…possibly why he is currently my most herd bound horse! I actually had a lot of growing to do that my Star helped me with…he’s really helped me regulate, stay curious, and celebrate 1% improvement.
yes – these horses have so much to teach us!
Always so interesting to learn the the nuances of personalities in a herd and I see many parallels to my own horses. Star and my Nibbles seem to have a LOT in common! Finding the sweet under the scared is so rewarding, and we are still trying to learn what she needs most when feeling stressed. It will take time, but she is teaching us so much along the way.
This is lovely Sue! I really appreciate how you can see the benefits and challenges each horse presents and being mindful of the clients chosen to work with each one. I think this individualisation is really great for clients to see how just like people, horses have their own experiences. It can also help us learn to respond to other’s needs and consider them at the same time as our own.
In the videos from the Meeting the Herd section, I was drawn to Sky and the more I get to know about him I see why. He has a similar personality to my favorite trail horse. That horse was the most sensitive and responsive one of the herd and also the most likely to spook. However, like Sky he would become the best most calm and steady horses for children with disabilities. We had to be selective on who we matched him up with because it could be either really good or a really bad fit.
This so speaks to how important it is in this work to know your horses really well!
I love this article! It really resonates with my feeling of wanting to know my horses personalities inside out. My gelding sounds very much like Skye, very anxious and still struggling to overcome trauma in his past. He has taught me how truly sensitive horses can be, after years of working with racehorses and eventers who often were ‘dulled down’ to fit into a regime.
I loved reading this section, as I think it’s so important to know your horses,, but from the different angle of understanding them as best we can from the inside, not expecting them to conform. I have worked a lot in riding schools and pony clubs, and have always respected what the ponies have told me. I would be very careful to match ponies and riders, respect where the ponies liked to be in the ride and accept their strengths and weaknesses, rather than force them into situations where they felt anxious or uncomfortable. I knew who was happy in the lead and at the tail of the ride, which ponies could cuddle up and which needed more personal space. I noticed if a pony clearly told me he didn’t like a certain rider. I knew that listening to the ponies like this meant that riders and ponies were safer.
I hope I will be able to transfer this way of working to collaborating with horses in therapy, in matching a client with a horse through observing signs from both, but I will need to really get to know the horses’ personality and history, and to deepen my understanding of the process that goes on between a horse and a human, from a therapeutic point of view.
I could see this being very valuable and transferable Jane!
I really enjoy reading about the personalities of the herd and learning the nuances of each an horse. I fell that this is a great way to become acquainted with the animals and feel a connection before even meeting them. I also think it’s a lot like to stories as well, I found myself relating to the stories and the different personalities of the horses. I really enjoyed it.
I found this article really helpful in highlighting the importance of treating each equine with respect and care, and matching them appropriately with different clients while never taking advantage of their good natures. Really enjoyed that you “walk the talk” as highlighted within comments re Star and finding her a happy forever home after taking time to help her heal -but appreciating EFW not for her long term. Also appreciate need to keep both our cups (and the horses cups too!) filled by practicing self care for ourselves but also for our equine partners, so all are able to keep giving without becoming drained and exhausted. And love the ideas such as fun trail rides, or simply a kind word, hug, grooming, whatever works for each at that particular session. Finally this helped me appreciate need to establish and communicate clearly how each horse must be treated and engaged with, and the need for boundaries to be respected throughout each session, and subtle cues noted and responded to in a timely fashion, in order to protect our equine partners.
sounds great Donna! This ties into us starting to develop an actual ‘scope of practoce’ for each of our equine partners as we do for ourself. It’s not required by Pro EFW for now but I think it’s coming and that this will be a good thing!
I am only working with one dog and I feel as though I am constantly thinking about her needs and how to ensure I am ethical in any work we do together. After reading this, I have a brand new appreciation for what it must be like to do this work with a whole herd of equines. All of your horses have come to you with their own unique stories and their own unique personalities (and accompanying unique challenges to including them in your work ethically). I think that for now, I am content to stick with one dog as we grow and figure this out together! Thank you for this beautiful article and your gentle consideration and care for all your animals.
You’re welcome Patricia – I’m glad this was helpful! There is definitely something to be said for doing this work with one animal partner who you know well.
I enjoy hearing about the unique personalities of the horses. These stories reinforce their sentient natures and the importance of applying the Pro EFW principles to ensure these beautiful animals are respected and well cared for.
Wonderful to hear how each horse is being responded to on an individual basis to their own individual needs. So much to think about!
Looking forward to learning more about meeting my horses’ needs and “reading” them.
Love how you know, appreciate and respect your horses’ stories. As I was reading your horses’ bios I was thinking of my horses and their contributing factors that make them who they are. I think being cognizant of who they are and what they need helps prevent the temptations of taking advantage of them.
Such a great way to view this Charlotte – yes, we need to truly get to know and listen to our indiviual horses (and other animals) in order to protect them and support their wellbeing
Thanks Sue, for sharing. It is lovely to notice and learn how each horse, while helping clients learn how to ride, also expresses there needs that are not being met. Such an amazing language to be aware of and improve on.
I love that you know your horses so well. I read in the comments Star was re-homed and I’m glad she is happy and that you did what was best for her. I love getting to know my horses on a deeper level and we grow and learn more and more all the time.
Thanks Keltie! Yes, rehoming a horse is a hard one for me, but we’ve needed to do that a few times now to really find the horse the home, relationship(s) and work that is best for them. Each time it’s been a tough decision but we’ve been picky, taken it slow and I think made the right choice.
This article was a good refresh following Explorations training and a way to jump into Foundations. What always strikes me in this work is the view of the horse a ‘co-counsellor’, and with this view, the necessary ethical treatment of the horse and need for ‘self-care’ along with us humans. This seems fundamental and possibly a view/value that distinguishes EFW work from other engagements with equines. What also strikes me the importance of knowing your horses on a deep level, not only to keep them healthy and safe, but also to understand how they can contribute to the therapeutic process with clients.
These are both such important points you’ve highlighted here Catherine! I would say though that not all EFW approaches take this approach (although I think it’s getting better out there!) and some non EFW equine interactions do (I hope that made sense!) Overall I think many more people who interact with horses are becoming more aware of this view and we are moving in the right direction. I’m working on a piece on equine neuroscience r.n. which I’m hoping will provide some more info and support for this and will add it to the course hopefully soon. After that my hope is to summarise it for a blog for people who aren’t in training!
such valuable insight into your horses I worked at a hunting camp as wrangler and farrier for many years was my job to Match the riders with the horses I would quietly talk to each client individually I would encourage them to tell me stories of their horse riding adventures.. From their stories I would determine which horse to match them with I would have the horses divided into three categories Steady horses that could help their rider get safely up the mountain. Neutral horses that could handle intermediate risers. and greener horses that needed an experienced, calm hand. I would make sure that periodically even the quiet ones would get ridden by experienced people.
this sounds like a great approach Yvonne – I love how you do this assessment so gently and organically, and also how you look out for your quiet horses so well too!