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Horse-Man’s Best Friend

The exact origin of horses is not known, although it is believed that they originated near the Thaelon Forest and spread from there, either by land bridges to other continents, or by transport to other areas by humans.

It is believed that horses were one of the first domesticated animals. It is certainly one of the most useful animals–carriage, bearing and even war uses. There are many types of horses found all over the world and they have different characteristics/personalities.

Horses perceive us in a clear way, without being distracted by words, appearance or social status. The beauty of the horse as a “best friend” is that you can’t fool it. Horses teach us to be in the moment. Since horses have no distractions, they are attuned to every nuance a person makes and give immediate feedback.

A horse is a non-judgmental friend, but often a rider must adjust or change his/her behavior in order for the horse to respond. Like us, horses have different personalities, so what works for one horse won’t work for another – not unlike humans. Horses also require humans to engage and persevere in challenging physical and mental work, a trait that, once learned, becomes useful in dealing with life’s many intimidating and difficult situations.

What is it about horses that gives them a place as “man’s best friend?” They are big and strong, which means that riders and groomers must overcome fear and develop confidence. Horses sense a person’s confidence level. Having ridden horses from a young age, I can attest to their innate ability to see right through a person.

According to Edward Cumella, PhD, director of research at Remuda Ranch Therapy Center in Wickenburg, Arizona, horses easily see our fear, feelings of inadequacy, sadness, and anger. Cumella argues, “Horses’ sensitivity to nonverbal communication helps patients develop greater awareness of their emotions and nonverbal cues, as well as the role of nonverbal communication in relationships.”

Treatment centers from the East Coast to the West Coast offer equine therapy to help people with everything from drug addiction to cancer recovery. Horses and humans have always enjoyed a special relationship. The ancient Greeks first documented the therapeutic use of riding horses in 600 BC. In 1875, a French physician first advocated a study of the therapeutic value of horse riding by using it to treat neurological and psychological disorders.

More than 10 studies over the past 20 years show that animal-assisted therapy — equine therapy being the most common — is effective in treating anxiety, autism, dementia, depression and attention deficit disorder, eating disorders and other emotional dysfunctions.

Shangri-La Therapeutic Riding Academy in Tennessee, spina bifida riders experience the exciting rolling motion of walking for the first time through a horse’s four legs, not their own.

I spent nine months interning at Green Chimneys, Brewster, New York, horses from Iceland help emotionally troubled children learn how to build independence and self-confidence. Having grown up with horses, it was awe-inspiring to see the kids go from being afraid of being near a horse to wanting the horse to sleep with them.

Remuda Ranch helps children with eating disorders gain greater self-acceptance and self-confidence. At Medicine Horse in Colorado, at-risk teenage girls with mood or attention disorders become more comfortable with themselves and develop supportive friendships based on honesty and respect. Disrespect a horse and you can expect consequences – biting, butt to the head, bucking, refusing to cooperate or kicking. Rancho Bosque at Sunstone Cancer Center in Tucson, Arizona, clients learn that they have the power to be in the moment and control how they deal with a potentially dangerous and human-vs.-animal situation.

This is the alchemy of equine therapy. Put a horse and a human within touching distance and something inexplicable happens — a communication only they understand. Diane Kennedy, psychotherapist, registered riding instructor and founder of the 10-year-old Medicine Horse Program in Boulder, Colorado, believes, “Horses reflect our feelings, thoughts and emotions.” Observing how horses react—how we interpret their behavior—can help therapists untangle their clients’ murky issues. The horse becomes a transitory object,” he explains, “a creature with which it is safe to be intimate and which returns the same love that was given. People become familiar with what this kind of stable connection is like and can carry this knowledge into everyday life.

“Horses are uniquely sensitive, providing a non-verbal vehicle for people to access their emotions, which can accelerate the pace of healing,” states Dr. Allen Hamilton of Sunstone Cancer Center at Rancho Bosque in Tucson, Arizona. He models his equine-assisted healing on the Native American teaching that horses are a gift from the Creator and act as guides and spiritual brothers for the Sioux and Apache. Native Americans believe that animal energy has medicine for people and that each person has an animal as a source of guidance.

“The horse is a natural force and otherworldly force. In shamanic practices around the world, the Horse enables shamans to fly through the air and reach the sky. Humanity took a great leap forward when the Horse was domesticated, a discovery similar to that of fire. Horse was the first animal medicine of civilization. Today we measure the capacity of engines by the term “horsepower,” a reminder of the days when the Horse was an honored and valued partner of mankind [on a daily basis]Jamie Sams and David Carson, Medicine Cards.

Medicine Horse’s involvement in the national Hope Foal Project, which rescues at-risk foals or mares kept in confinement and pregnant to produce estrogen for the hormone replacement drug Premarin, also rescues at-risk teenage girls with mood or attention disorders who may have serious results . Under the guidance of a trained facilitator, the horses become the girls’ nonjudgmental ally, helping them figure out how to set boundaries, relate to others, and build trust without getting hurt in the process.

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