Equine Faciliated Learning: Implicit Knowing versus Explicit Knowledge

November 26, 2008 by  

EQUINE FACILITATED LEARNING And Implicit Knowing versus Explicit Knowledge

There is, then, both a moral and practical obligation for each of us to look beyond the surface of events…to feel the ground swell underneath the events and perceive the direction they are taking: to perceive the evolutionary trend as it drives social change in our word. “The Choice” by Ervin Laszlo

What does Equine Facilitated Learning have to do with what is called the “Great Turning”? Joanna Macy sees this as “the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial-growth society to a life-sustaining society” which takes into account all of life and nature. Research on how we learn and how much we retain supports what the horses have been teaching us all along. Implicit Knowing which comes from actual experience supports experiential learning, in this case the work with horses. Explicit knowledge, while necessary and important, is not experienced directly but rather through study, education and the experiences of others. If we can take this time to bring forth new dimensions of human intelligence and solidarity among all sentient beings, way beyond anything we now know, then perhaps we can see this as a time of optimism. A time where we can “hold” both the collective nightmare and the collective awakening, the shadow and the light described by James O’Dea, president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Peter Russell calls this time a place of integrated “trans-egoic” consciousness.

My experience with horses has demonstrated, without question, these adept facilitators can teach us more about us as sentient beings and also how to traverse the obstacles and challenges we are facing as a species today. Christopher Bache, in “Dark Night, Early Dawn” calls this the “dark night of the species-soul”. Maybe it is time for other species, in this case the horses, to teach us how to live and respect all of nature.

The 3 brain theory: Brain in the head; brain in the heart; and brain in the gut supports the work with horses who have a much larger heart field and gut than humans. In fact, too much thinking and remembering can take us out of the moment without enough brain activity for feeling and experiencing. We now know that intelligence is distributed throughout the body. When you have a direct experience it does not go directly to the brain in the head. The first place it goes is to the neurological networks of the intestinal tract (brain in the gut) and the heart (brain in the heart). If we do not feel our values and or goals, we cannot live them. The brain in the heart actually seeks out new experiences and is open to new possibilities which will intuitively matter to you in your life and work. The brain in your heart “reads” what others feel and measures the coherence and congruence of the other’s feeling state and checks it against its own inner state of coherent values, beliefs, and passions. This is why horses, as prey animals, are so good at measuring the inner state of people, checking them out for any incongruence’s, and responding from their guts and hearts and not from the brain in the head where language can distort and deny what is actually happening.

Many of the people talking about the changes inherent in the shift refer to the heart as the change agent essential to this new paradigm. The Institute of Heartmath, a research organization, has measured the heart’s electromagnetic field which is 60 times greater in amplitude than the electrical activity generated by the brain. Some of their research has involved horses because of their large hearts. Love is at the heart of evolution and the healing source. Spiritual resonance is an energetic resonance coming from the heart and the limbic brain which connects with others in a “unified field” so that when one person sheds the layers of illusion it encourages others to find their true voice and authentic self. It has been found that clarified states of consciousness have a contagious quality. A psychiatrist, Elio Fratterolli, coined the term “affect contagion” where emotions both positive and negative can be “caught” by another person or persons.

Research on the brain in the head and how events, emotions and learning are stored in neural pathways (starting with the brain in the heart and gut) supports the efficacy of Equine Facilitated Learning. The triune brain (in the head) consists of three distinct sub-brains that have separate functions, properties and chemistries. All three of these brains developed in evolutionary history in separate ages. The reptilian brain handles basic bodily functions such as: breathing, heartbeat and swallowing and some animals, snakes for instance, operate singularly from this part of the brain. The limbic brain, the one we will discuss in this essay in length, functions in all mammals to assist them in birthing and caring for their young. The limbic area of the brain is where our ability to relate is felt and stored. The last, but not the most advanced, part of the brain in the neocortical brain which functions in humans and to a lesser extent in mammals to assist in reasoning, writing, language and planning.

The book, “A General Theory of Love” is an excellent source for much of the research on this subject. Some of the information contained in this book about how a therapist’s relationship with a client is the determining factor in long term healing can be applied to how and why equine facilitated learning works. Relationship does affect the revision of these pathways through the processes of limbic resonance, limbic regulation and limbic restructuring.

Look at some of the direct quotes from this book about limbic revision and see if you agree. “The first part of emotional healing is being limbically known [limbic resonance]—–having someone with a keen ear catch your melodic essence…………..a precise seer’s light can still split the night, illuminate treasures long lost, and dissolve many fearsome figures into shadows and dust. (pg. 170)

Limbic regulation happens through relationship. “But people do not learn emotional modulation as they do geometry or the names of state capitals. These concepts are stored in the neocortical brain. People and animals absorb the skill from living in the presence of an adept external modulator [the horses with congruent and authentic facilitators], and they learn it implicitly.”(pg. 171)

Can you see how Equine Facilitated Learning changes an individual’s implicit knowing rather than teaching or explaining a feeling or event through explicit knowledge and why this is more valuable for a lasting and long term change to occur?

“These novel pathways have the initial fragility of spring grass, but they take deep root within an environment that provides simple sustaining limbic nutrients. With enough repetition, the fledging circuits consolidate into novel Attractors. When that happens, identity has changed. The patient (person) is no longer the person he was.” (pg. 179)

Through this work with horses’ new neural pathways in the brain will develop which will eventually become a superhighway replacing the other highway which helped the person to survive but keeps them from thriving. The third stop for nerve impulses, after going to the other two brains (heart and gut), goes to the area of the brain in the head known as the medulla located in the limbic or feeling brain. The medulla is a vital link with the RAS, reticular activating system, which has evolved over millennia with an inherent tendency to magnify negative incoming messages, like fear, and minimize positive ones. Information coming through the RAS goes quickly up to the neocortical brain and assists in making the decision to fight, flee or freeze. This was needed in the Stone Age to protect us from danger which helped us to survive as a species. However, to thrive we need to be able to differentiate between actual outside fear and vulnerability. Vulnerability is an” inside feeling” which feels the same as fear, but has a very different message usually having to do with change or a challenge. Sometimes it is the more positive feelings which seem the most threatening. This work can offer an individual a “corrective emotional experience” when the stimulus (the feeling) is familiar but the response and outcome is different. It does take some time for a new neural pathway to develop; however, the good news is that adult human brains have enough plasticity to do this.

The neocortical brain collects facts: new facts and new paradigms can change existing facts quickly. The limbic brain does not change quickly; however, continued exposure to another mammal (us or the horse) can restructure the limbic brain of another person. I see this as evidence as to why “talk therapy”, self-help books, and traditional cognitive/behavioral techniques can only affect the part of the brain that reasons, plots, speaks, writes, plans and records. The neocortical brain is not the most advanced of the three brains but only the most recent. Again from a “General Theory of Love, “Evolution is a kaleidoscope, not a pyramid: the shapes and variety of species are constantly shifting, but there is no basis for assigning supremacy, no pinnacle toward which the system is moving……We are free to label ourselves the end product of evolution not because it is so, but because we exist now.” (pg. 31) They suggest that we expunge our temperocentrist bias. Our work with the horses demonstrates this. Our teachers are these magnificent mammals who have a much larger limbic systems and smaller neocortical brains.

Here is one of the best descriptions I have seen of what I call”holding the sacred space of possibility”: that space in-between words and doing where a container of support to be is created that is fully engaged, not tied to the story, and is open to “what is happening in the moment”. Horses and other animals do this naturally. “The therapist who cannot engage in this open adventure of exploration will fail to grasp the other’s essence. His every preconception about how a person should feel risks misleading him as to how a person does feel. When he stops sensing with his limbic brain, a therapist is fatally apt to substitute inference for resonance. Therapists prone to surrender limbic vision come from schools that offer cookie-cutter solutions.” (pg. 183, A General Theory of Love)

In conclusion, equine facilitated learning can and does transform the client’s limbic brain which takes much more repetition than does the “quick fix” of most brief therapies which address only the neocortical brain. The neocortical brain can rapidly change didactic information but without the whole body, the brain in the heart and the gut; only ones’ thoughts and information change. This, in my opinion, is why so many people “understand” why they might do “such and such” differently and still go about life unconsciously without full engagement and lasting results. When all 3 brains are in agreement and the person is living from a conscious place, life becomes a symphony with each day bringing new challenges, joys and sorrows. All of nature and the animals are calling us, reaching out to us, and saying: We are and have always been ready to teach, support and guide you with our innate wisdom.
Excerpt from “Unexpected Grace”
Copyright, 2008
Kathleen Barry Ingram


Institute of Heartmath www.heartmath.com
Institute of Noetic Sciences www.noetic.org
“Healing the Soul in the Age of the Brain” Elio Frattarolli M.D.
“Dark Night, Early Dawn” Christopher M. Bache
“The Mystery of 2012” Sounds True, Inc.
“A General Theory of Love” Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., and Richard Lannon, M.D.
“The Other 90%” Robert K. Cooper
“Quantum Shift in the Global Brain” Ervin Laszlo
“The Global Brain, Waking in Time” Peter Russell
“The Great Turning as Compass and Lens” Joanna Macy (The Mystery of 2012)

Continuing Education with Epona Instructors: Vermont

November 25, 2008 by  

Lisa Murrell & Jan Koerwitz

Lisa Murrell & Jan Koerwitz

Susan Campbell at Georgie's

Susan Campbell at Georgie's

In September nine Epona Apprenticeship Graduates met with Kathleen to have a continuing education weekend in beautiful Vermont.  This event was sponsored by Georgie Stapleton at her farm, Midnight Mountain www.midnightmountain.com  Georgie’s horses, her husband, Brian and the magical land supported all of us in the weekend of growth and opportunity. 

The following instructors partcipated in this exciting and enlightening weekend:

Abby C. Williams, BA; Licensed Massage Therapist,Maine        

Susan Middleton Campbell, MA Clinical Psychology; Lic. Mental Health Counselor
781-576-9419, Maine


Lisa Murrell, Professional Certified Coach (ICF), Executive Coach
845-687-4324 (May-November), New York State & Florida


Michael Grden (Mufasa), New York State Licensed Massage Therapist       

Mufasa & Jean DiMarco in Vermont

Mufasa & Jean DiMarco in Vermont

518-392-4682 New York State




Francine Phillips, MS.Ed, Certified Infant Massage Instructor
845-485-7106, New York State


Jean M. DiMarco
914-204-6212, New York State

Georgeanna Stapleton; MA in Counseling Psychology, EFP               

Francine, Jan, Lisa, Georgie, Paula & Susan in Vermont

Francine, Jan, Lisa, Georgie, Paula & Susan in Vermont

802-276-2139, Vermont

Jan Case Koerwitz, California


707 695-3284


Paula Bixby, Maine