What do the horses do during a session?
Therapy horses react to the presence and emotional energy of people. They have innate, finely tuned non verbal communication skills and an affinity with people that allows them to read emotion and react to how the person makes them feel.
The ability to 'read' the emotions of others has evolved out of the need to survive in the wild as animals that are preyed on. Horses must read the intention and emotion of their own herd as well as that of predators in their vicinity. They are enacting what neuroscientists have identified as the ability to ‘feel the sensations and emotions of others' due to the presence of mirror neurons found in the brain.
The horses are free to react as they choose during a therapy session. They are not controlled with halters, ropes or verbal commands from the facilitators. Consequently there is scope for them to exhibit a wide range of behaviours, both in how they react to the person as well as how they behave with each other.
As masters of non-verbal communication horses have a great ability to get their point across. Behavioural scientists have identified 17 different facial expressions exhibited by horses however when you consider their range of full body movement it’s plain to see how vast and unconstrained by words their vocabulary is. During a sessions they may stand totally still, move slowly or quickly, walk in circles or straight lines, scrape the ground, nibble grass, be close or far away, be apart or form pairs or groups, roll, sniff, lick, chew, curl their upper lip, breathe heavily or lightly, have soft or alert eyes, keep ears still or flickering, blink fast or slowly, shut eyes or keep them half closed, lower or raise their head, curve their necks, rest their head on a shoulder, watch from a distance, increase or decrease their energy, chase each other, play, take turns at initiating play, walk behind/next to/in front of each other, rub noses, nicker, neigh, snort, give long exhales or short sharp inhales….
Every session is totally unique and the processing of what happens will be unique to your situation. Some sessions are full of movement and activity whilst others are calmer with less movement. Some sessions involve lots of close, physical contact between horse and person whilst others involve more distance and observation.
Physical safety is monitored by the facilitators who will step in if any behaviours are considered unsafe. A safety briefing is given at the start of each session to give clients parameters around what is and isn’t deemed safe whilst interacting with a herd of loose horses. Track Clinic horses are well versed with people of all ages and levels of emotional difficulty and have never exhibited any sign of aggression towards people.