The Change EFL Can Bring to the Horse Co-facilitator – By Beth Goodwin

December 11, 2011 by  

How the Horse’s Life is Enhanced and Benefited

Beth Goodwin

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.”

Beth Godwin


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