December 11, 2011 by Kathleen
2011 has sure been an eventful year with many challenges and opportunities for all of us. If you are like me, you are ready to see what 2012 is all about! I see this as a time of expanded conscious awareness for all of us. Certainly, my work with the horses all over the world supports this. Recently I was asked, “What do you see and feel is the common denominator with horses and people in your travels?” As always, my answer was “horses are helping us to wake up.”
My colleagues and I have been working on a concept which we call Relationship in Motion or RIM. Over the years in my work in Equine Facilitated Learning, as well as work with families and corporations, I have noticed that much of a relationship is lost or put aside when a goal, deadline, or time constraint is present. In EFL I notice that people may love connecting with the horses on the ground through grooming, reflective round pen work (one in which there is no goal but to be in relationship), or just standing and being with the herd in the field.
However, because we are human, and many times goal oriented and constrained by time limits, I see people dropping the feeling of connection to get “the job done.” RIM is a process we are developing that assists the person to be in relationship- or limbic connection– with the horse and get motion or movement with collaboration. This may seem simple but those of us working with horses, children, spouses or employees know this is not always the case. What parent hasn’t temporarily “lost it” when asking their child for the 100th time to clean up their room? When you are going to get your horse for an activity with a client, do you remember to tell them what you would like?
We know that maintaining a limbic connection and asking for movement involves the heart, intention from the brain, and pressure (or direction) from the belly or power center of the body. When one is predominant (or lost) the horse will often stand stock still or be overcome with confusion. Active round pen work, as opposed to the traditional lunging the horse, can offer the opportunity to stay in connection and get movement and collaboration. What I have seen more often, however, is that people get into the goal of the activity and the horse – who has learned to “obey” the signals- performs the activities mindlessly but is disconnected. This disconnect, of course, will often translate into peoples’ lives outside the round pen. I have seen many times the person who wants to stay in their heart be unable to get any kind of forward movement.
As a facilitator of EFL I want the client and the horse to have the best possible experience – an experience which will help the client’s body to remember what it feels like in connection and with movement. I recall a man who experienced post traumatic stress disorder and had limited his life to the degree that even benign opportunities for change frightened him and kept him isolated and alone. We had introduced the concept of emotions as information, and especially the differentiation of fear versus vulnerability. It was his turn to get the horse (with some assistance from the equine professional) and see if he could have an experience of movement in the round pen. At the beginning of the workshop he had told part of his story and informed us that he was terrified of horses. By the time we got to this activity he had been with the horse in a safe place and was open to the challenge of taking the horse for a walk. The facilitator let this man take the time to connect with the horse, by putting on her halter and beginning the walk to the round pen. By the time the man and horse entered the round pen so much had happened within the man that he wanted to just be with the horse. Was this a success? You bet it was.
When he came out of the experience and shared with the group he said, “Kathleen when you first introduced the difference between fear (outright physical or emotional threat) and vulnerability (inside change or opportunity), I was not sure I would be able to tell the difference. I had spent so many years reacting to the feeling of fear that I had not allowed myself any opportunities for change.” When asked for one word at the end of the workshop to sum up his experience with the horse, his word was “Courage.” The smile on his face when he faced the challenge of connection and movement with the horse is one that will remain with me for a long time.
Another example of Relationship in Motion (RIM) involved a horse trainer and a reluctant horse. The woman went to get the horse and, after checking in with her body, got the message to go slowly. Later that message would have a lot of significance for her in her personal life. As we watched the exchange between woman and horse we noticed how slowly and deliberately she took each step. Now this woman is a horse trainer so she certainly knows how to get a horse to move. However, she took the time to listen to herself – and what the horse needed – to get to the round pen. I have to admit I had to let go of my idea of what might be happening to support what was happening between them. It took her 40 minutes step by step.
When she got to the round pen I asked her what she wanted to do. Her response was priceless, “I told him the goal was to walk to the round pen and that I would take the time he needed to do this. Once that happened I learned what I needed from the experience.” This horse had a problem with people pushing him beyond his limits. The trainer could feel in her body that the opportunity for him to create a new memory of pressure and release was more important than any goal. As a goal oriented person, this lesson translated to her life and allowed her to feel what it would be like to have forward movement and to maintain connection with herself and loved ones.
We have had many opportunities to see and observe this connection and movement, or Relationship in Motion, with people and horses. It is the “dance of relationship” with collaboration, full intention and respect that the body remembers when working with horses or people the next time a challenge and opportunity is presented.
I have mentioned just two examples of the work with horses and people from this year. I have traveled over the world this year and seen many more. For this opportunity, I would like to thank the horses and my colleagues; Wendy and Andre at Horse Spirit Connections in Canada (www.HorseSpiritConnections.com); Sun Tui and her herd in England (www.ifeal.me); Eva Balzer and her herd in Germany (www.Zentaura.de); Drea Bowen in Washington state at the Equine Empowerment Center (email@example.com); Lisa Murrell in New York (www.EquineAlchemy.com); Susan Castaneda in New Mexico (www.EquineAlchemy-Southwest.com); and Eve Lee and her horses at Loghaven in Illinois (www.EquineMagic.com).
December 11, 2011 by Kathleen
How the Horse’s Life is Enhanced and Benefited
Over the past 12 months as I have begun my journey as an EFL Facilitator I have been amazed at the positive changes I have seen in my own mare and the horses who have co facilitated sessions for my clients who choose to work with their own horses.
One of the first sessions I facilitated was for a woman with several horses. She asked that I work with her and one of her geldings. However, when I turned up to her property it was very evident that another gelding wanted to work with her. While this may be no surprise to many of us in this field, it came as a complete surprise to his owner. She reported that she felt this horse didn’t like her – she had had him since he was a foal, and he always walked away from her in the paddock, especially when she had a halter and a lead rope in her hand. She retired him from his dressage career early as she felt he didn’t like her or the work she was asking him to do. His owner reported, “What I found very surprising was that the horse I least expected to want to participate made it quite clear he wanted to be very much part of this. He was the horse who wanted to help me the most and this stunned me.” He was right there beside his owner wanting a piece of the action. After the session the owner reported how much love she felt had come to her from the horse during her session. What is really amazing to me is this “love story” has continued ever since, even 12 months down the track his owner still reports how he is there at the gate to meet her, and is happy to be caught.
Another interesting case was with a warm blood mare and her owner. Her owner felt she had reached a bit of a plateau with her mare in their dressage work. There were also other things going on between them. When I made contact with the client a few days after the EFL session, she reported a real change in her mare and the previous relationship. She said she didn’t feel like she had to baby the mare anymore (she bred her) and that she had had some “exceptional “rides on this mare. She was really pleased with the change and it was way beyond what she had expected.
A teenage girl asked me to facilitate a session between her and her pony. She wanted to have a better connection with her pony among other things. Her Arab cross pony, while reasonably sensible, could be quite challenging for her. When I made contact with her a couple of days after the session she reported how “We had a lovely beach ride today and he seems very relaxed and settled around me, even when there were some dramas this afternoon”. Then a day later, “He was even more great today after a ride through the forestry; prancing along at a fast walk with his ears forward the entire time!”
The owner of a very upstanding and talented mare asked me to facilitate a session for them both. By now word was getting out that the EFL work was really benefitting the horses and the relationship between the owner and their horse. This horse had been chased by a previous owner, with a flag, into a wire fence. She was very weary of people and finding it hard to trust her present owner. She could not be paddocked with other horses as she hid behind them and was almost impossible to catch. At the beginning of the session this mare looked dissociative. During the session she slowly softened like cheese melting – kept her form but soft around the edges. On following up with the owner a few days later she reported a significant change in the mare. She felt both she and the mare had changed and they had a much more trusting and positive relationship. Several weeks later, the owner reported even more significant changes in her mare. She is now in a paddock with the rest of the herd and very happy to be caught. She can now be floated places as she stays in the float and doesn’t rush out the minute her chest touches the breast bar. The owner reported how she loads her and stands with her and “tells her stories”. She feels the mare listens and then continues to stand there after the story is complete. The owner also has ridden her bare back and jumped her – both for the first time. The owner reported how she had never jumped in her life before but trusted the mare to show her how. She said she was feeling really positive in herself and that she and the mare were helping each other. The day I saw the mare, several weeks after her session, she was happily eating hay with her paddock mates, looking very content with herself with a lovely clear and sparkling eye.
I have also noticed changes in my own mare after she has co facilitated a session with a client. She always seems very proud of herself and she glows with health for days after wards. On one particular occasion her change was really marked. She had worked with a client with cancer. After the session my mare looked like she had just had a body work session – her normally dippy back had come up and she looked like I had just washed and polished her with some show sheen. I took a photo of her and sent it to friends. They found it hard to believe she was the same horse. This change in her lasted for several weeks. I wondered who was actually healing who?
A change like this was also reported by another client who worked with her own 26 year old gelding in an EFL session. A few days after the session she commented how he seemed so much more alert and interested in what was going on around him. Several weeks after the session she said this change had endured.
However by far the most remarkable change in a horse I have co facilitated a session with has been with an 8 year old Hanoverian gelding. He began an early career in dressage with a previous owner and was starting to show intermittent lameness by the age of 5. His present owner was given him as a case study project for her equine sports massage practice. He was progressing nicely. However New Years Eve 2010, he got a fright in the night, and ran into a wire fence. He was found in the morning and by this time he was a mess, with lacerations and cuts all over his body. He was so bad the vet suggested euthanasia. However the owner felt she needed to give the horse a chance. At the time of the EFL session it had been 7 months since his accident. While his body had healed, his mind had not been so fortunate. He had been hyper alert ever since the night of his accident. Even the slightest movement around him and his head would go up rigid and he would take off around his paddock. Anything out of the ordinary upset him. He also found it very hard to be separated from his paddock mate.
He co facilitated two EFL sessions in the one day – one with his owner and one with someone else. In both sessions he found a “happy place”. While he was holding space for the clients to work, it also seemed like they were holding a space for him to work. Several times during the sessions the other horses in paddocks nearby would start running around but this horse just stayed totally focused on the client while in a really relaxed and “zoned” posture. His owner reported that this was really unusual for him since his accident – in fact unheard of. What is even more astounding is that he has maintained this chilled out demeanour ever since the day of his sessions. He is now able to be paddocked on his own, if required, without any fuss. He happily carries on eating while chaos is happening around him. He is really focused on his work and is not distracted by what is going on in his environment. When his owner takes him for a walk in the forest, he is totally focused on her and not wanting to return to his paddock mates as he had done in the past. His owner reports that he is “no longer spooky and lacking in confidence but rather confident and inquisitive”. She can’t get over “how mellow he has become”.
When I started out on my journey with EFL someone asked me who my primary target market was. I replied without thinking about it too much, that it was helping people to have a better relationship with their horses. At the time I wondered where this had come from in the recesses of my mind, but what had me wondering even more was how this was going to be achieved. In my training to that point, I had not seen any really positive effects on the horse co-facilitators. While they had not necessarily been adversely affected there didn’t seem to be any really positive effects either. I could see how if the owners could be more “in their bodies”, congruent and authentic then they would be easier to be around for both other people and horses. I never really expected to see the extraordinary changes clients have experienced both in themselves and in their horses. As one client commented, “equine facilitated learning is an amazing experience and I believe that we are only just scratching the surface of its real potential for humans and horses.”
December 8, 2011 by Kathleen
How Horses Help Us To KNOW Ourselves
Efficacy of EFL supported by the latest brain research by Kathleen Barry Ingram
Co-founder of The Epona Approach
Describing the work with horses as co-facilitators in human development is not an easy task. Simply stated the horses really do help us to know ourselves.
I can’t tell you how often I have witnessed a client coming out of a quiet session with a horse and heard them say: “It was magic! I felt like myself for the first time. My heart just opened and these tears came flowing out—but they felt free, open —you know not jammed up in my throat”. I could go on and on about what people felt in the presence of the horse and what other people witnessed, but I think you get the point. Guess what, it is not magic but is a process scientists now can actually name which happens only in relationship. What the client and others felt, saw, and experienced is the limbic connection of two beings. Relationship does affect the revision of these pathways in the brain through the processes of limbic resonance, limbic regulation and limbic revision or restructuring.
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; this can be applied to how and why equine facilitated learning works.
[P. 192] “A General Theory of Love
Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.
Because our minds seek one another through limbic resonance, because our physiological rhythms answer to the call of limbic regulation, because we change each others’ brains through limbic revision—what we do inside relationships matters more than any other aspect of human life.
- 1. “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.”
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.
I can’t begin to tell you how passionate I have become about some of the newest brain and body research and information coming from very reliable and dedicated scientists and clinicians. Most of my professional life, I have practiced as a clinician whether I am conducting a session as a psychotherapist, coach, mentor or teacher. The many “miracles” I have been a part of fills me with awe and hope for the ability of people to learn new things, change, and have better lives. The work that I do with the horses has transferred to everything I do and teach since these brilliant beings are so good at helping people come back to their true selves.
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 gut “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, 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.
The book, The Brain That Changes Itself  has some of the best information on the neuroplasticity of the brain. Neuroplasticity of the brain is the term used to describe the capacity of our brain for creation of new neural connections and for growing new neurons in response to experience. In the process of experiential learning with the horses, the experience itself, which is very new for most people, i.e., being with a horse without doing anything can actually assist the client in forming and developing new neural connections. I often give a simple explanation like this: The horses help the humans to see, feel, and believe in the possibility that the old super highway way of being and responding to a familiar person, stimulus, thought or action can be replaced by a new path—much like the road less traveled.
In Daniel Siegel’s latest book, Mindsight, he eloquently and factually supports the efficacy of experience in relationship to help people grow and change. He believes that most people come into the world with the brain potential to develop mindsight, but the neural circuits that underlie it need experiences to develop properly. He describes mindsight as our seventh sense and tells a story of a ninety-two year old man who was able to overcome a painful childhood to emerge as what he calls a mindsight maven. Siegel believes, as do I, that it is never to late to stimulate the growth of neural fibers that enable mindsight to flourish. His concept of “feeling felt” is what most people and horses desire to live exciting and meaningful lives.
In equine facilitated learning this sense of feeling felt is necessary whether we are working on the ground or riding the horse. The sense of feel that many individuals describe in natural horsemanship is this implicit way of knowing another being. The explicit learning and knowledge we receive from our teachers and the horses, although very necessary, is not enough to really make the changes our clients and students are seeking.
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.
The horses and good facilitators both with listening hearts can really help people be open to the possibilities of change and with limbic revision guide them towards the probability of a new life. One of the consistent ways of doing this is what I call holding the sacred space of possibility. This is a space, nestled between two heart beats, where two beings breathing together co-create the possibility for lasting and sustainable change.
Kathleen Barry Ingram, MA
© June 2011
Kathleen continues to teach internationally in training programs in the UK, Canada and the United States.
For more information on Kathleen and her mentorship programs contact her at www.sacredplaceofpossibility.com