Horses Healing Humans

By Amy Skolen

Many of us are familiar with the various riding disciplines, yet there is a growing recognition that horses have many more uses than just riding or driving.

In this reflective roundpen session with Blue, Henry is learning how to just Be with another. .

People have been using horses as a tool for physical therapy for decades. Equine Facilitated Mental Health is close to 20 years old and Equine Experiential Learning has been developing as a field for almost a decade.

Yet this recognition that horses have 'other uses' does not seem to acknowledge that horses are not just a recreational activity, a tool for therapy or a metaphor for learning; they are sentient beings. Horses have their own level of consciousness and awareness, their own personalities, likes and dislikes, fears and insecurities, sense of meaning and purpose. They also have an amazing potential that is largely untapped in regards to helping humans in their personal development and healing. We have labeled this new form of work Horse Enhanced Transformational Learning.

Horses as Healers

Through my years of working with people and horses and observing these interactions, I have come to realize that horses act very similarly to our own "still, small voice" within. Horses "speak" in whispers to our soul and patiently wait until we are ready to hear. At first they help us become more self aware of our emotions by acting as mirrors. When we are nervous, they act nervous; when we are agitated, they become agitated. Then they start to challenge us. If we become controlling, they become passively resistant; if we become very docile, they ignore our signals and go eat grass. Next, as our awareness increases, we begin to notice how they help bring our emotions into balance. When we are sad, they provide us with comfort and help us find joy. When we are doubtful or uncertain they become a rock of calmness and demonstrate that they will take care of us until we become more confident.

Many equestrians have experienced each of these interactions with their horses, yet there is a further interaction that is possible. We can become truly present to a horse's presence and recognize, honor, and respect him as a living being with intrinsic value, not just a breathing recreational vehicle or therapeutic tool. It is then that we also begin to recognize how horses help heal us on an energetic level - horses open us up to the ability to start healing emotionally and spiritually.

To fully maximize the power of this kind of interaction, we need to provide an environment that respects and honors the horses. This is accomplished by providing them with natural nutrition, space to just be a horse, and the ability to be out in open air, to graze and to be able to socialize with other members of their herd. Horses kept locked in a stall and only taken out to be exercised, longed or put through the paces of a particular riding discipline or job, tune out. When you look into their eyes you can see that they are not really there but just going through the motions.

Active round pen with Blue - creating a feeling of what true willingness feels like in relationship.

Healthy horses live in the present moment; we often live in our mind - present, past and future. When we open up to just relating to a horse, without the horse having 'to do' anything, we open up to what is going on with us right here and now. We become fully present ourselves, sometimes for the first time in our lives. By creating a space where we are physically, emotionally and mentally present with a horse, we create a space for emotional clearing. Feelings that we have blocked or repressed for years naturally surface and we are able to acknowledge them and let them go without having to relive our past experiences or tell our 'stories.' A horse's movements also help to bilaterally stimulate our brain and our body, which enables us to uproot negative beliefs and plant new, more expanded, positive beliefs in their place. This process helps us change our desires and behaviors, which helps us change how we live our life.

Energetic Balance

On an energetic level, every living being has an energy field that surrounds the physical body. We also have several energy centers located throughout this field that help coordinate and direct how we live, feel, act, love, speak, create, see and know. Our energy field can become unbalanced from our life experiences, and as prey animals, horses are very sensitive to 'vibes' and can pick up when and where we are not balanced energetically. Horses, being four-legged, are well connected to the earth and are very grounded. This can help channel negative energy - theirs and/or ours - and dissipate it into the ground. For those who are familiar with energy healing such as Reiki or Therapeutic Touch, the horses seem to be true Reiki masters in providing energetic healing to people.

Through years of working with various people and utilizing kinesiology, muscle testing, and dowsing techniques using a pendulum over a person's energy centers, I have observed how the horse can help balance a person's energy centers. Balancing these centers has a profound impact on a person's emotional well-being.

Putting It All Into Practice

Chris is being led through "The Journey of Life", about to go under the arch that represents places in life where one has to suddenly duck or get out of the way. Amy Skolen (L), lead facilitator; Susan Atkinson (R), personal coach; Colleen Lucus, co-facilitator, leading Blue.

When we work with people, we ask them to take a few minutes to write about what's bothering them. Thereafter, we then ask them to pick the horse that they want to work with for the day. Each experience is unique to the individual. Over the years, I have seen patterns develop with particular horses. Ritz works on heart-based issues and helps people lift sadness. Blue helps people with their communication and spiritual connection. Topaz is good with boundary issues and being true to oneself.

Partnering with the horse creates a space for the person to get in touch with his/her feelings and to become aware of what is going on in the body. By recognizing where a person feels tightness or constriction and asking questions that relate to the energy center located near that part of the body, we help people uncover and release the negative beliefs that hold them back from reaching their full potential.

Once the negative belief is voiced by the person, the horses, through facial expression, lips and body movements, verify if we have uncovered the core issue. We then ask the person to state a new, positive belief to replace it. Then it is time to utilize the horse's body movements to help implant this new positive belief into cellular memory.

For example, when Sue came out to the farm, we asked her about her reasons for coming. We gave her time to write about her main issue - she felt all alone and wanted to feel more connected to the people around her. I then asked her to go out to the field and just be with a group of horses. I asked her to focus on each horse, one at a time, to determine with whom she wanted to interact. There was one horse, Topaz, with whom she felt 'a warm, fuzzy feeling.' She felt very comfortable around Topaz and wanted to work with her. From my experience, there is always one horse with whom a person feels very comfortable. Typically, though, this is not the horse that best serves a person's need. I then took her to another field and asked her to go up to each horse, without touching him/her. When she got to Blue, he lifted his head from grazing and started to walk up to her. When he got within three feet of her, he suddenly stopped as if he had walked into a brick wall, and then turned around and ran a few steps away. He demonstrated a very strong reaction to her presence. As we discussed his reaction, Sue related it to her experience with people. She would often get close to a person and the person would suddenly stop and back up or turn away. This was clearly the horse that could help Sue deal with her difficulty. I then measured Sue's energy centers and found that her third chakra, the center of personal will and power, was very large and that her heart center immediately above and the familial relationship/ creativity center below were almost closed. Energetically she was not connecting with others and was literally pushing people away from her. We then went through a series of exercises with Blue, both on the ground and riding him. Throughout the process Sue unearthed several negative beliefs that she held about herself: that she was not good enough, that people judged her as lacking, that she had to be perfect, etc. As she started to voice these beliefs, Blue would hold his lips tense and shuffle his feet - then drop his head and start licking his lips. Together, Sue and I worked on restating the negative beliefs into positive ones that could better serve her. She then mounted Blue and I led her through an obstacle course that simulated life's bumps in the road, places where a person gets stuck, circles, leaps over hurdles, etc., and she voiced her new positive beliefs until her voice was firm and full of confidence. She then led Blue herself through the same exercise so she could have a visceral experience of going through life supported and in partnership with another. This experience helped her recognize the times in her life she was supported by others but did not know it at the time. At the end of the experience I measured her energy centers again. All were in balance.

Dev, performing a "walking the talk" exercise, lining up his body to clearly demonstrate where he wants to go before asking Ritz to move away from his food.

Another client was very intense and passionate about everything she did. She came to learn how to lighten up. The horse she chose to work with was Dancer. We took her to our outdoor arena so she could learn to let go and have fun. We turned on the music and asked her to dance with him. At first, she would rush at Dancer, causing him to take off and run around the arena. Every time he would slow down she would rush up to him again and off he would go. As we discussed what was going on, I asked her to try something different: instead of going directly after what she wanted, extend an invitation and back away. She reached out her hand and started to back away. As she did so, Dancer turned and came right up to her. Then she started to dance. As she swirled around and moved back and forth, he matched her step-by-step staying directly in front of her. They danced for about 10 minutes and then she started to laugh and skip around with Dancer by her side.

In doing this type of healing with the horses, I have observed that the horses always do what the client needs. It is important to not judge what the horse is doing. My best example of this was a round pen exercise with the president of a training and development company. We were working on an issue related to leadership and I asked her to lead the horse through an obstacle course, then take off the lead rope, and go through again. The horse wandered off and we got into a discussion about willingness vs. compliance. I then took the woman into the round pen with the horse and talked her through how to join up with the horse. She lined herself up and got the horse to start moving. The horse went around the circle once and she said she was ready to proceed even though the horse had not demonstrated any body signals suggesting he was willing to join up with her. I opened the round pen and she stepped out with the horse behind her. As soon as the horse cleared the gate he took off at a gallop, leaped over the fence of the outdoor area, and took off over a 35-acre field. There we stood with no horse in sight. I turned to her and all of a sudden she started sobbing. She said, 'That is exactly what happens whenever I start a project with someone. I think we are all on the same page, start moving, and all of a sudden that person is gone and I am all alone.'

The experiences I have shared through my program of Personal Coaching continuously re-affirm a belief that I have always held to be true. Horses can truly help people heal, not just by providing physical exercise or a metaphor for learning. They have their own innate intelligence and energetic balancing gifts.

About the author:

Amy Skolen with her quarter horse Elmer

Amy Skolen is a Reiki Master, Soma Energetics Practitioner, and Spiritual Response Therapist. She also has a Masters in Business Administration and is the founder of 'Unbridled Performance: The Center for Team and Leadership Breakthroughs'. To find out more about Horse Enhanced Transformational Learning for personal, emotional and spiritual development or Horse Enhanced Accelerated Learning for leadership and team development, please call 412-257-6097 or visit