Facing Life’s Challenges with Equine Assisted Learning
There’s a part of our brain- the limbic system, that manages and regulates our emotions. One specific part of the limbic system- the amygdala [Greek word for almond] manages how we react to stress and threat.
When we’re faced with an overload of stress and challenge, or when we have an emotional reaction to something that happens to us – the amygdala kicks in and helps us react. And because it’s essentially there to protect us – it reacts – really fast. And just like when animals feel threatened or challenged, we tend to react in one of three ways: We will run, we will fight or we will appease and try to make things better.
We know that horses are flight animals and highly in tune with their emotional reactions to challenge. When we observe their behaviours, we can see that when they have an emotional reaction, they feel the emotion, they express it and then they quickly get back to grazing as if nothing had happened. They don’t sweat over what has taken place nor worry about it happening again. They deal with the challenge – in the moment.
HEAL can help participants develop strategies for facing life’s challenges. We focus on maintaining awareness of what is happening in that moment, i.e. how are you feeling right now? We help participants consider the choice point that can guide how we react to challenge – how to be flexible and adaptive rather than fixed and locked to one response. Working with the horses, we focus on grounding, breathing, and managing our emotions by getting back to ‘grazing’. Using the horses as partners, participants can build trusting, safe relationships, which facilitate the exploration of personal boundaries and our reactions in situations when we feel those boundaries are threatened.
Celebrated American author, Jodi Picoult said,
“The human capacity for burden is like bamboo – far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.”