What is Equine Assisted or Facilitated Work? 

Equine Guided Education or work started around the 1980s.  It is a growing field in which horses are the quintessential partners for enabling growth and development, enriching our whole life experience. 

Common descriptors include Equine-Guided Work, Equine-Assisted Learning, Equine-Assisted Therapy or Psychotherapy, and Equine-Facilitated Coaching.  Some focus on skill development, others recovery from illness and trauma, and others awakening personal or professional potential within.  While approaches, language and programs differ, the common value-added element is that horses can help teach, heal and transform lives.  

The work draws on the nature of the horse as a herd animal who understands leadership, distinct roles in a herd, energy, connection and communication. With the help of a discipline specific professional, a client works with horses in reflective and active exercises designed to help surface stories, beliefs, values, internal dialogue, fears and memory of past experiences that play a role in limiting us from moving forward. 

Why Horses?

Horses and humans are sentient beings (conscious or aware, and responding with feeling).  As non-vocal and non-predatory beings, they are constantly aware of everything in their environment.  They rely on their sensitivity to stay safe.  Horses react immediately to what happens around them.  That’s what makes them great teachers for us.  They are “in the moment” and as such are perfect partners to quickly reveal what’s going on for us when we interact with them. 

 Through the horse, we can open a window on our human ‘being’.  Many say that horses can be a window to our soul.  Connection happens with a horse through trust.  You can see in their natural habitat, the role that trust plays in leadership and followership, in establishing and maintaining the herd, and in day-to-day interactions.  Horses communicate with one another through behaviour.  They offer instantaneous, clear insight through our interaction with them.   

What is the focus of this work? 

Not many people pay attention to or understand the patterns and effects of their behaviour.  They just take it all for granted as “the way I am.”  

When we learn to listen, horses can help us see what’s going on inside.  We can be more awake and aware of where our focus is; what’s taking our energy; how we think about past, present or future; and how to ‘be’ in the moment.  

Therefore, this work’s focus is greater awareness:  insight into your mind-body connection; drawing on your inner wisdom; understanding your ability to choose in any personal or professional situation; and living fully.  Cultivating this capability, we can grow into full choice around how we respond.  We can grow our response-ability. 

What can a horse teach me about myself?

Many people ruminate on the past or worry about the future.  Our past lives in the subconscious, affecting our feelings, moods, behaviour and everyday decisions.  It can rob us of the opportunity to be grounded and content.  

Working with horses helps us learn how to be ‘present’ … in the moment, and living with full awareness.  This doesn’t mean that we never think about the past or future.  It does though, enable us to choose how we think about the past and future.  Being present offers the opportunity to choose our response and next steps. 

Our bodies hold our truth:  information, knowledge and wisdom that can guide our actions when we learn to listen.  They don’t lie to us but rather work hard to get our attention.  Through cumulative years of not listening, we can suffer physical effects such as pain, disease and chronic illness.  The horse facilitates self-learning and going deeper to access the body’s wisdom. 

If we can learn how to become aware of our sensations, emotions and energy in relating to a horse, we can do the same in relating to other sentient beings (i.e. people).

How is this different from other approaches to coaching? 

Combining traditional coaching methods and coaching with horses significantly expands learning and growth possibilities.  You + Certified Executive Coach with experience in the equine-facilitated learning + Horse = an unparalleled partnership.  This coaching is aimed at integrating the whole: realigning mind, body and spirit to create personal strength and confidence. It is a means to a greater sense of self and personal power.  

With equine-facilitated coaching, the horse is the teacher. Horse, by its behaviour, offers immediate feedback. The coach, works with the client to understand their internal landscape through the lens of that feedback. 

 How does a typical session unfold?

A typical session involves a number of exercises designed to help you become aware of your sensations, emotions and energy. This helps you understand how these are affecting current opportunities in your life. These exercises involve solitary work observing the horses, coaching conversations and being with the horse in a guided coaching activity.  All activity is supported by the coach and horse handler. 

How have the horses been trained to do this?

Highly-sensitive, instinctual beings in constant communication with their environment, horses react immediately to what they sense.  Their survival depends on it. 

So, horses sense our energy, emotion, intention and watch our body language. They can discern what we would call confidence vs. anxiety, assertion vs. aggression, threat vs. safety.  If people had the same powers we might be concerned that they would use those insights against us!  However, horses neither judge nor hold a grudge.  They know when we’re pretending to feel something we’re not. They point that out and encourage congruency, honesty and clarity.  Their nervousness about us when they sense incongruence becomes a powerful mirror that makes them ideal coaching partners.

Horses naturally live this way.  They don’t need to be trained in any special techniques.  We are partnering with them as they do what they do best.  

What if I’ve never had any experience with horses?

Partnering with a horse to learn about yourself is a powerful motivator for change, but prior experience with them is not necessary.  Interestingly, some people choose equine-facilitated learning because they want to be stretched out of their comfort zones to grow.   

What if the horse senses I am uncomfortable or afraid? Or How can I do this if I am afraid of horses? 

Part of this work’s beauty is in learning how to deal with things that make us uncomfortable.  Once on site, we will take time to prepare you for interacting with the horse; helping you get in touch with your own energy and reach a relaxed state.

Even those unafraid of horses will be stretched and challenged by the process to think, sense and grow differently.  

What if the horses don’t like me?

Horses respond to the energy we hold in our bodies.  Their reaction to us is not about like or dislike.  It is about trust.  And they are non-judgemental creatures.  They will provide immediate feedback as to how they are receiving your energy.  This provides you with the opportunity to become more aware of and to shift your energy. 

What if I am allergic to horses? 

Again, this is a very individual decision.  If you have a strategy to manage the allergy, then a trial session might be possible.  If not, then you a can participate in some coaching sessions without working with the horse. 

My significant other thinks this is really interesting.  Can I bring them along to watch?

If you have signed up for a single session, then it’s really up to you.  However,  because the horse is tuned-in to your energy it’s important that only you, your coach and the horse handler are in the immediate area with the horse. Your coach will be managing their energy so as not to interfere with your session.  Quite often, depending on what your body’s wisdom has to offer, you might need time to process your learning before you share it with anyone else.  If your guest is comfortable watching from a distance and is okay with the notion that you might not want to share what you learn with them, then we can make it work. 

Ideally though, it would be best for you to have the experience by yourself so you can work without distraction and then be in full choice about whether and when to share your growth experience with others. 

We can design a session specifically for you and your significant other if that is something you would both like to experience. 

 Does this work with teams too? 

Absolutely.  Equine-facilitated sessions can be designed for individuals or teams.  Sometimes we work with workplace teams, couples, families, or groups who have come together for the first time around a particular issue in common.  It’s incredibly powerful to learn about yourself and examine your impact on others by first working to understand it with a horse.  

Is this supported by or related to any research / publications?

There is an emerging field of research supporting equine assisted work. This program is not an active participant in any research at this time. Next Stage EFC was interviewed as a part of the 2017 Capital Health study called “Animal Assisted Interventions in Nova Scotia: Investigating Current Practice Within the Health Professions.” 

Will there be any follow-up?

Some clients decide to engage in further sessions with and without the horse.  Information about upcoming offerings can be found under the ‘Programs’ menu.

What if I have questions later?

No doubt that will happen.  Hopefully, the session will be an opportunity to spark curiosity and new growth.  You might want to engage in additional coaching work, another session or explore the answers on your own.  Please feel free to make contact to determine what is the best for you.