How and Why Horses Help Our Children
Photo courtesy of Cher Feitelberg
By Tim Hayes
Throughout human history, people have loved owned, and ridden horses. Horses fascinate us; they silently speak to our hearts. However in the last few years, something new, and quite extraordinary, has been discovered about the ability of horses to help humans. It is most often referred to as equine therapy.
Men, women, and children afflicted with severe emotional damage are healing and making dramatic recoveries by receiving the simplelove, understanding, and acceptance that comes from establishing a relationship with a horse. Remarkable and lasting healing is being achieved with groups as diverse as veterans with PTSD, at risk youth, children with autism and those suffering from addiction and alcoholism. Sharing the studies and research of this unique ability of horses to heal emotionally wounded humans is what inspired me to write and can be found in Riding Home ~ The Power of Horses to Heal. Additionally I hoped readers would discover both how and why horses help people become better human beings, have better relationships, and can show all of us the qualities we need to become more loving and compassionate.
Something unimaginable and profound occurs when a human begins a meaningful, emotional and interactive relationship with a horse.However, one’s epiphanies do not come from riding on a horse’s back. Profound psychic breakthroughs originate and are manifested when a person creates a relationship with a horse on the ground. Not only are the results both transformational and enduring, but they occur with amazing speed. Horses reconnect us to the truth of our irrefutable yet fragile collective humanity. A great many members of our human family may look different from one another on the outside, but that which resides hidden inside all of us and which is most personal is always the same. Horses have the ability to instantly remind us that, just like them, we inhabit the same planet, share the same fears and desires, and, more than anything else, all desperately desire to get along with one another. Horses help us discover hidden parts of ourselves. They cause us to become better people, better parents, better partners, and better friends. They teach us that when we’re not getting what we want, we’re the ones who need to change either what we’re doing or who we’re being. A horse can be your greatest teacher for, as you will discover, a horse has no ego, he never lies, and he’s never wrong.
We live in an age of partial attention. Smartphones, texts, emails, computers, and 24/7 activities not only depreciate our human connectedness with others; they erode our relationship with ourselves and remove us from the natural world. The greatest impact of today’s technology, both positively and negatively is felt by today’s youth. What if more children could spend time interacting with horses? Could horses help empower these young folks with both the self-worth and the sense of values necessary to overcome some of society’s compulsive obsessions with power, materialism, and celebrity?
In his landmark book, Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv describes a growing modern illness and its effect on children; he calls it nature-deficit disorder. It is a real disorder, with symptoms such as diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses. In one study, when a fourth-grader was asked why he preferred to play indoors and not outside, he answered, “that’s where all the electrical outlets are.” Today’s technological brilliance brings great rewards to our children but, paradoxically, it fosters in them even greater loss. Louv reports that recent studies have discovered correlations between children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the amount of time spent indoors watching television, using a computer or some other technological toy. He states that millions of children and their parents struggle not only with the difficulties of ADHD and depression but even more with the painful side effects of Ritalin or Adderall, as well as other chemical remedies prescribed by their doctors.
Horses connect people to the power of nature and of living in the moment. I believe that being outside to interact with horses is one of the most powerful ways to prevent and eliminate nature-deficit disorder and help and inspire children to learn, grow, and become healthy, functional adults. Horses are nature in one of its finest forms. One of the first U.S. equine programs to do this and utilize the natural relationship-building skills inherent in equine herd dynamics is Natural Horsemanship for Children created by Stephanie Lockhart at her nonprofit horse farm The Center for America’s First Horse, in Johnson, Vermont. Recounting what happens in her program in her introductory video Natural Horsemanship for Children, Lockhart tells us that natural horsemanship teaches children of all ages and backgrounds how to safely create a positive interactive relationship with a horse. She shares how the mutual love, understanding, and acceptance that comes from establishing this equine relationship leads to enormous personal growth, greater self-esteem, and emotional maturity. In her video we get to see how the gentle horses at the center model relationships with other horses as well as with the children that manifest the naturally inherent traits of herd dynamics. Seeing how horses treat each other with acceptance, kindness, honesty, tolerance, patience, respect, trust, forgiveness and compassion inspires children to then utilize these abilities with their parents, their friends, and in all of their other human relationships. We learn that horses can remarkably change a human from the inside out and that today this amazing ability of horses to heal and grow by teaching us about ourselves is accessible to anyone.
It is my hope that any man, women or child who wishes to take a break from what they already know and reachout to something new or different, something that may bring them feelings of self-awareness, joy, wonder, humility, and peace of mind, as well as anyone who needs help in healing their emotional wounds, whether derived from the PTSD of war, the debilitating effects of autism, a painful family, or addiction will now know that there’s another way.
Welcome to the healing power of the twenty-first-century horse.
©Tim Hayes 2016
This article and the research and information in it, is adapted from my new book RIDING HOME – The Power of Horses to Heal. It is this amazing power of horses to heal and teach us about ourselves that is accessible to everyone and found in the pages this book. To learn more about the book please visit: www.ridinghome.com. Every book ordered will benefit children of families in need, veterans with PTSD and children with autism. To contact Tim Hayes and for more of his work go to: www.hayesisforhorses.com.