Coaching is a fascinating line of work. Learning how and why people think, act, feel, and behave the way they do is an endless topic of study. As a coach, I work to understand how to assist people in focusing on goals, identifying and overcoming obstacles to success, and planning actions that will take them to their highest ideals and best selves. I love coaching with horses for many reasons but one of the best ones is the impact horses have on us just by spending time with them. I recently came across a study done with nurses and horses interacting. The results speak to the experiences I can attest to, along with countless others. Below is an excerpt from the publication.
“Horses offer humans the possibility of learning about themselves and relationships with others (including patients). Equine “human interactions have been shown through anecdotal reports to help with strengthening interpersonal skills, confidence, awareness, honesty, and trust (Innovative Horizons, 2011). During interactions with people, horses give immediate, nonjudgmental feedback. … Horses respond immediately to human intent and behavior without assumption or criticism (Frewin & Gardiner, 2005). As domesticated animals with a long history of partnership with humans, horses are believed to be, by those in the equine field, experts at recognizing authenticity and intentionality in their human partners. Horses are always authentically present and living in the moment, an instinctual way of being that promotes their survival. To successfully engage the horse in various activities, one must also be fully engaged and in the moment, and the horse’s body language provides immediate feedback regarding one’s success.” (taken January 28, 2013 from http://jhn.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/01/22/0898010112474721.long)
It almost sounds like magic. How can spending time with horses strengthen confidence, honesty, and trust? It is true that horses are not a magic bullet that inoculate people against dishonesty, diffidence, and suspicion, but there is something that occurs internally with us humans when we hang out with equines. I think it may be a combination of factors such as their enormous size, their hypersensitivity, and the fact that, by virtue of their evolutionary ability to live in the present, we tend to become more present and internally aware. It may also be that we humans, being social creatures as are horses, are programmed to want to join the herd. Those mirror neurons that promote empathy are acting on us unconsciously, causing us to overlook the differences between our species and focus our awareness on our similarities as mammals. Whatever it is, the experience throws into high relief a heightened state of awareness and engages our whole being, all of our senses and all of our brain circuits.