Why are horses partners in therapy for mental health?

Individuals process information in two ways: Cognitive system (head level information processing) and experiential system (heart-level information processing).

Cognitive system process the intellectual information: things that we can put into words easily and things that requires more analytical thinking (head-level processing). On the other hand, experiential system is closely tied to the emotions that is responsible for processing the cognitive information. This information is harder to convey and is processed in a more holistic, intuitive and preconscious manner (heart-level information processing).

It is believed that the challenge for the psychologists is to ensure that changes in unhelpful beliefs (that can contribute to low self-esteem etc.) occur in both "intellectual" and "emotional" levels. If it does not, then behavioural changes are unlikely to endure and the emotional stress will tend to persist. 

Why horses?

  • The horses provide the opportunity for experiential heart-level information processing and are very good at reading our emotions
  • They are prey animals which are highly instinctive to enable survival.  They can pick up on things which may be in our blind spots or we can not see to the eye
  • They are social animals with defined roles within their herds.  Similar to our social structures
  • They provide real life, dynamic and responsive to their environment
  • They are sensitive to non-verbal communication, they respond and provide feedback in the moment
  • They provide vast opportunities for metaphorical learning
  • Participants can experience the experience – immediate impact
  • Experience kept alive! Lasting impact


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