Unlike dogs and cats, horses are solely prey animals, meaning that safety is their primary concern. Relating to them can help us explore themes of safety, security, trust, and courage in our own lives. Horses and humans are similar in that we are social animals, having multiple roles and responsibilities within our families/communities – or “herd”. Watching the herd’s interactions allows us to explore the similarities and differences in our own communities. There is often at least one member we can relate to and we can use those similarities to explore our own relationship dynamics.
Working with a herd allows us to engage with a variety of individual animals. This is beneficial as horses have distinct personalities, attitudes, fears, moods, and characteristics. This encourages us to be patient, flexible, to problem-solve, communicate mindfully, and to be empathetic. You have to learn to work in partnership; giving direction, receiving feedback, learning alternative ways to communicate; and with a herd, you have lots of opportunity for practice. When working with horses, we are engaged with an animal whose behaviour mirrors our body language and internal/external mood states. We can’t wear a mask or pretend to be something we aren’t with horses. They teach us to be honest and sincere, and give us positive, non-judgmental feedback in return. We become responsible for the messages we send and how we deliver them. Thus we learn emotional regulation at the same time.