The picture in this post is of my spitfire daughter Simone with our endearing, yet mischievous little pony Chance. These 2 characters are nothing less than 2 peas in a pod, both cut from the same cloth, and a true match made in heaven. Although my other 2 horses are warmly related to all of us, Chance and Simone understand each other as no one else can, and their bond is quite special. Her ability to work with him, despite having less horsemanship knowledge and experience than me, surpasses my skills. Chance would move mountains for his Simone, and it’s simply because she is a “what you see is what you get” kinda kid!
Why horses are attracted to kids.
It is not uncommon to witness horses softening around children. At the very least, they become more attentive to their presence. For these reasons, equine-related interventions have the potential to be quite powerful for children because the relationship starts off in a straightforward manner, even if the child is sensitive or emotional. God knows my daughter Simone can be both of those things, (even when she is directly interacting with our pony and hasn’t quite managed to regulate herself).
Here’s what I know:
Children ARE their feelings. By this, I mean that their behaviours are always congruent with their feelings. Until a certain age, they are incapable of anything else actually. Since horses are prey animals, they are experts in reading body language, picking up on intention, and sensing underlying emotions. When a person’s behaviour directly matches what the horse has already assessed as being true (according to their own instinctual analysis), the horse can be confident that they know what they are dealing with, and therefore trust the situation. Horses only feel insecure or apprehensive when a person tries to mask or suppress their feelings and displays body language that doesn’t match what the horse has already picked up on. Before the teen years, most children are still operating at a concrete emotional level, and therefore, have not yet adopted the maladaptive way of coping by bottling up everything to the point of experiencing dis-ease (like we do as adults).
Children have healthy auric fields. Horses can feel energy just like any other being. According to some spiritual teachings, children still have one foot in the etheric realm when they are born, up until the age of 7-10 years of age. Their auras are still quite large, bright, and pure. Just like you can be attracted to that one friend with positive energy and contagious smile, but repulsed by the person with the bad vibes at the grocery store, horses can react exactly the same way to humans. They are more likely to gravitate and interact willingly with people surrounded by healthy auric fields! Unfortunately, as we go through life and experience a variety of challenges, our auric fields change. Horses see children for who they truly are in a very clear way.
In my equine-assisted sessions addressing social-emotional skills, I always let the horse pick the child. The reason for this is to allow for a matching of energy and personalities to occur. This assures an equal relationship will form, and therefore we can address our learning goals together.
How horses teach skills in the present time.
If you think about what every parent wants for their child, it is 1) to be happy in their own skin, 2) to be able to adjust to the ups and downs of life, and 3) to navigate relationships in order to experience the joys of receiving (and giving love). There are many ways to teach these things to your child, but let’s just say that I am glad that my horses are helping me with my parenting.
Here’s what they teach:
You have to be brave to interact with horses. Horses are huge animals that always instill a certain feeling of wonderment. In order to have a successful experience, you need to make the horse feel secure by showing that you are a good herd leader. This can feel daunting initially because the horse will purposely test this authority for its own sense of safety. The horse needs to know that the person is worthy of being its leader or it will step in and be the leader for that person. Children quickly learn how to be in their power by developing true confidence in the safety of a relationship with a specific horse over time.
My Simone can be quite bossy at times (don’t tell her I told you-I will deny it). This does not fly well with Chance. He puts her right back in her place when she is in such a state. Simone is truly learning the difference between being aggressive and being assertive. This is a skill I am glad Chance is teaching her directly because she is way more forgiving of his sweet face than mine!
Adaptability is required to get a horse to follow your instructions. As previously explained, horses will respond to even the most subtle cues and energy you are putting out. Sometimes, very minor adjustments are required to fine-tune how you think you are coming across to the horse, because although it’s almost perfect, it may not be quite right just yet. This ability to slightly adjust and adapt can make all the difference in getting the horse to cooperate. The child learns over time how to self-regulate and temper all sorts of emotions (from frustration to over-excitement). The child also begins to increase awareness around how their most subtle body language can affect relationships.
Horses teach physical boundaries and provide healthy affection. When Simone is feeling left out by her peers at school, or sad about not performing well on a test, I send her out to the paddocks. No one can comfort her the way Chance can, despite my efforts to say all the right things. I’ve taught her to tell him how she is feeling (straight-up) so he “knows” how to help her, and it always works! One snuggle in his bushy mane and new perspectives are always gained!
Horses can definitely provide physical affection once they feel comfortable, but they can also teach how to respect their personal space, as they do not respond well if they feel remotely crowded. For the child who’s heard the teacher say a million times not to get so close to their classmates, or to please ask before giving a friendly hug, horses provide a very hands-on way to learn this skill. They will avoid interactions with the child until the child receives permission from the horse to get closer.
What else can I say? HORSES ROCK!
I hope this has been informative! I have officially added working with children with the help of horses to my scope of practice! It is now up on my website!
The best part is that it is affordable and can be partly covered if your child has FSCD funding! Check it out to see if your child is a good fit and book your sessions today!