Humans and horses have a special relationship that’s physical as well as mental.
A horse will respond uniquely to the client they're with.
Horses sometimes know more about people than they know about themselves, equine therapist Saan Ecker says.
Saan and her partner Joanne Byrnes keep 10 horses – seven Arabs, two ponies and one miniature – on their 44-hectare farm, Peakgrove, in the Yass River region of New South Wales. The property is in wild country, 45 minutes from Canberra.
Saan and Joanne are certified psychotherapists who come to equine therapy from mental health backgrounds. The equine-assisted experiences they offer cater for people seeking emotional, intellectual and, sometimes, physical therapies.
The connection between horse and human can be profound and there are proven benefits to equine- assisted therapies that can happen on horseback, and on the ground.
Visitors come to Peakgrove from across Australia – families and couples, children and seniors and corporate groups. They work on building a relationship with the horse, rather than taking on a traditional role as its master.
"This involves leadership skills, but also compassion, kindness and seeing the horse's perspective," Saan says. "You really have to dig in to find those sorts of skills."
“The psychosocial benefits of working with horses also can be particularly useful for people who are non-verbal or who have limited speech,” Saan says.
Meg Kirby, Founder and Director of the Equine Psychotherapy Institute, says horses have an intuitive awareness and can often sense things clients don’t know or don’t intend to project.
“A horse will respond uniquely to the client they’re with,” Meg says.
“If a client comes across as frustrated, irritated, pushy or moves straight into the horse’s boundaries then the horse will respond aptly. This provides feedback to the client – the practitioner will ask, ‘what did you notice? What happened?’.”
Meg, an experienced psychotherapist and Gestalt therapist, trains practitioners in equine-assisted psychotherapy (practised by mental health professionals) and in equine-assisted learning. Meg works with 12 horses on the rolling plains of the institute’s Daylesford farm in Victoria, which offers a range of equine-assisted experiences for personal development.
“For a lot of people, especially people who live in the city or people who feel confined to their homes, it’s really a beautiful experience to be in the elements, in a natural environment, to be meeting another species and to be offered an opportunity to learn about themselves,” Meg says.
wordsLachean Humphreys Images courtesy Equine Psychotherapy Institute