We have to be VERY careful in this work that our horses don’t turn into “good therapy horses”, because this could mean that they are actually being too compliant and are therefore, likely to be shut-down to some degree. And a horse which is shut-down is compromised in terms of their happiness, health and well-being.
Why would you want a horse that's too good or shut-down? I suggest the answer to this would be out of fear. Because, anytime we want another to comply, we are acting out of fear and feeling out of control, whereas genuine confidence in our ability to relate to another comes from a place other than power and control.
I don’t want my horses to be compliant and “good”.
Instead, I want them to be powerful, playful, fulfilled, happy, well, joyful; free to be themselves and free to move and to choose.
That’s what I want to see horses displaying in this work:
Where THEY choose to come forward and offer a connection, support or guidance, or not.
And where they can move away as much or as far as they need to in order to feel safe themselves and comfortable.
I want to see them happy to connect and engage with people. And happy to play and explore with people, not be led or pushed around in order to teach someone a skill or increase their confidence, or treated little more than inanimate objects for the benefit of people, profit and reputation, as this gone on for far too long in all areas of the equestrian world.
True confidence and skill comes far more powerfully and authentically from creating a connection and establishing a mutual relationship which is based on a partnership approach to exploring things, not from using; pressuring or dominating another in order to complete tasks, exercises, demonstrations or tick boxes to meet targets.
The time for change is now and those of us involved in this field can lead the way by changing how WE relate to and engage with our horses, and thus model for others the necessity of changing attitudes and approaches to relating to horses and indeed all other animals. Thereby improving things for all of us as we go by raising awareness, consciousness and compassion. This is particularly important if you are training other people to enter this field, as good practice and standards starts with the training provided and modelled.
NO. I want my horses to be their fullest selves; to be nothing less than empowered, sentient conscious beings who happily engage with me and my clients, and to know that on any given day or time they can also withdraw and simply go about their equine day with their herd mates.
That’s what I want to see in horses engaged in any form of this work; no compromises and nothing less.
Angela Dunning, 25th March 2022
Author of: ‘The Horse Leads the Way: Honoring the True Role of the Horse in Equine Facilitated Practice’.