How does coaching with horses work?
It is believed that it was probably around 3500 BC that the steppe peoples of Asia captured and tamed the first wild horses. So that a life side by side was possible at all, we owe rather to the character of the animals than our own. Horses are in fact social creatures and extremely sensitive. They can decode human emotions within seconds, even distinguish human facial expressions – and have 17 documented different expressions themselves – even four more than a chimpanzee (Bettoni).
Since then, man and horse live in close relationship with each other. Even in our modern times, the encounter with the horse still triggers feelings. This is evolutionary, but also neurobiological. A few models of the human-animal relationship in keywords:
Evolutionary biology states that our senses, our MOtorics, our cognitive and emotional experience are made for nature. Attention to life and to nature is evolutionary. One study (Animal Monitoring Hypothesis by New, Cosmides & Tooby) demonstrates that we have higher spontaneous attention to living things than to inanimate objects, regardless of current utility. Biologically determined selection of stimuli has been important for survival and species preservation for millions of years. This has not changed until today.
The hypothesis of biophilia is “The love of the living”. Man is in awe of life (Albert Schweizer) and is attracted to everything that is alive (Erich Fromm). There exists an instinctive bond between humans and all other living systems (Edward O. Wilson).
The “Attention Restoration Theory” (Kaplan and Kaplan) proves through studies that voluntary, i.e. directed attention, which is required e.g. at work, tires and involuntary attention, such as that to nature/plants, relaxes rapidly.
Important for our work in coaching: The attachment theory (attachment as a secure basis for the external regulation of negative emotions through affection and closeness) is also transferable to the human-horse relationship (Beetz). That is, horses are bonding objects for people and positive experiences with horses are transferred to people. And this is one reason why equine-assisted coaching succeeds.
Stress reduction through oxytocin: Studies with animals show that the “cuddle hormone” oxytocin is increasingly released through interactions with the animal as well as through petting. The higher oxytocin level has a positive effect on the immune system as well as the psyche. (Nagasaww, Kikusuia, Onakab & Ohtaa).
What works in equine coaching are the mirror neurons: horse and human focus their joint attention on the same object (“joint attention”) and the horse responds directly to the emotions and behavior of the human (resonance). The mirroring occurs involuntarily, i.e. independent of the will. Mirror neurons are also found in brain regions important for emotion recognition (Rizzolatt and Sinigaglia).
And last but not least: in a controlled experiment, Prof. Ellen Kaye Gehrke proved by measuring heart rate that horses adapt to the human emotional state, regardless of whether it is its owner, rider or you, that is, an unknown choachee. (Tellington-Jones & Didier).
In my Master Thesis I investigated the effects Choachees experience when interacting with a horse in coaching processes. Interested? You can find a poster here.
Enough theory: just try it out and call or write me!