Maintaining horse well-being in an Equine-Assisted Learning setting
The team at Yarcort hosts a special event for women to connect and transform through Equine-Assisted Learning. Photo courtesy of Megcomm Films.

Horses in Equine-Assisted Learning environments do so much to improve the welfare of humans – but these programs can take a toll on the horses’ well-being. Here’s how to keep them happy and strong.

Horses and humans share a powerful bond that has been in place for centuries. From the dawn of time when horses were first being ridden, to today’s equine programs that use equines to help people move forward in life, horses and humans have enjoyed a multifaceted relationship that only seems to be getting stronger.

One of the fastest growing industries in the horse world is Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL). This practice is extremely helpful for humans, but can be detrimental to horses if they are not properly cared for. Like people, horses experience a broad range of emotions that, if not tended to, can easily frustrate and wear them down. Client and facilitator can be at risk if the welfare of a horse in an EAL environment is not given top priority.

The power of energy

EAL environments expose horses to a great deal of energy. Horses are so well connected to humans that they are able to understand – and even feel – our emotions. When a horse in an EAL setting senses negative energy in a client, that energy is reflected back to the client through the horse. This reflection is instantaneous, clear and without judgment. It allows the client to begin unravelling his negative patterns and create new ones that make him a happier and more successful human being.

Click here to read about Anna, a young girl with selective mutism, and the incredible difference Equine-Assisted Learning made in her life.

But being exposed to so much negative energy can severely impact the horse’s overall well-being. Providers must therefore take extra care to help relieve stress and muscle tension while working with these animals. Above all, the care of the horse comes first. So, what steps can EAL providers take to ensure equine well-being?

The Alexander Technique

Many riders, especially those who participate in dressage, will recognize the Alexander Technique. It teaches the learner to align her body so only the necessary muscles are being used. It’s also used to relieve tension in muscles. It works by teaching you to be more aware of your body and the unnecessary effort you may be exerting when using it. It addresses patterns of inefficient movement and accumulated tension, not through a series of treatments or exercises, but by reeducating the mind and body.

This technique, while great for people, is also excellent for the overall well-being of horses – especially those in an EAL setting. Training horses to have strong self-carriage (a balance and self-maintenance of movement that doesn’t rely on a rider’s hands) is a great way to help them feel better and relieve tension in their bodies. If their bodies can relax, so too can their minds – making the Alexander Technique one of the greatest contributions to the overall wellness of our equine companions.

Using essential oils

Aromatherapy is a helpful method for relaxation. The use of essential oils can help soothe muscles and encourage mental relaxation in both horses and humans. Scent is a powerful thing – horses rely on their sense of smell to build memories and help them navigate the world. Providing them with a soothing aroma to enjoy helps keep them calm, relaxed and happy. Essential oils can be used topically, aromatically or as a dietary supplement. Just be sure to use high quality, therapeutic grade essential oils that are safe for equine use, and consult an experienced practitioner to determine the type of oil and administration method that best suits your horse’s needs.

Equine companionship in the great outdoors

Horses (like humans) are herd animals. This means they find happiness in the company of other equines. At EAL facilities, horses spend much of their time around humans. Therefore, it’s important to provide them with plenty of time with each other as well.

Along with the company of other horses, a natural outdoor environment for exercise offers equines a wonderful outlet for their own energy and emotions. Incorporating natural elements into their outdoor environment, such as logs and trees, along with other items like balls and toys, will further enrich their space while offering opportunities for strengthening their engagement, focus and endurance.

EAL allows human and horse to uniquely communicate in a way that allows the human to focus forward in order to change old negative habits. With so many EAL providers certified worldwide – and more getting certified every day – it’s more important than ever to be mindful of maintaining wellness while caring for these majestic animals. This creates a healthy environment for the horse, and huge transformation for the client.

Contact Yarcort to learn more about Equine Coaching and the methods we use to keep our horses healthy.