Anxious horse, anxious human

You may or may not have heard in therapy that two people have to be in psychological contact in order for therapy to work. This does not mean the therapist has to be a mind reader and know what you’re thinking. Far from it, in fact, this brings us to today's topic in Anxious horse, anxious human. Before we get to that, I feel it’s important to explain the above.


To begin, psychological contact is simply, two people in a room, free of distraction, willing to engage with each other in exploration of various topics for the purposes of awareness and self-development. On the more complex end it is one person i.e., therapist, holding space using empathy, active listening and a plethora of other skills to allow the other person i.e., the client to freely express themselves that they may not be able to in their daily lives.

Back to today’s topic. Anxious horse, anxious human: do you notice what this sentence has in common with each other? If you were going to say anything like, they are both anxious? You would be correct. For our purposes both horse and human are anxious.

On a deeper level, horses have learned their skills of survival over thousands of years of evolution as a prey animal till they have reached the heights they are today with finely tuned senses; not unlike a combination of the sonar on a submarine, the ears on a bat, the eyes of an eagle and the athletic ability of the best gold medallist Olympian to set foot on any running track. No doubt about it horses are keenly adept to their environment and everything and everyone in it. That includes you.

To be in psychological contact with horses can be profound, change can be quick and immediate, and people are often unprepared for this.

As humans, we to have evolved over many years, from the days of cave men and women discovering fire and using it to cook and keep predators away at night to today where arguably we are top of the food chain. However, we too are keenly aware of our environment. Certainly, to a lesser degree than horses perhaps but arguably when humans sense danger, the hairs on the back of our necks stand up, the adrenaline kicks in and we are ready to run away with all the speed we can muster to escape that danger.

To put it plainly, both horses and humans have anxiety. Horses like humans are all different and some suffer anxiety to a greater or lesser degree. Just like humans, are all different and also suffer anxiety to a greater or lesser degree.

Therefore, we are connected to each other through our biology, despite being two different species we have a commonality in our anxiety, the way it operates and the way we both use it to keep safe.

We've established both humans and horses have anxiety, that it is a biological imperative that keeps both our species safe when danger is lurking. So then, how is it possible to be in psychological contact with a horse I hear you ask, especially if we are both anxious? Remember earlier when we said everyone suffers anxiety but to greater or lesser degrees? A good example of this would be a client seeking therapy would naturally be anxious as they don't know what to expect from therapy, your therapist may be anxious as they don't know what to expect from their client. Therefore, both are experiencing anxiety but to varying degrees. In this scenario it's possible if both client and therapist are willing, to be in psychological contact to have a successful therapy session.

So then, why should a human-horse interaction, be any different? The horse, through years of evolution simply wants to know, is this human going to eat me or hurt me? The human simply wants to know, is this horse going to hurt me? (Sometimes maybe even is this horse going to eat me?).

Man stroking horse

Horses in therapy

Even under these circumstances, it is still possible if both the horse and the human are willing to be in contact with each other to have a very successful therapy session. There is benefit to contact of this nature, where two people or even a person and a horse are sizing each other up, figuring out if they can trust each other, and deciding to work together.

For a therapist and a client there will likely be dialogue around this topic but for a horse and a human for whom dialogue will not be of the same priority, it is simply enough that the horse trusts the human enough to be in the same space. After that trust is gained, rapport and relationship are built much like any counselling session.

To be in contact with another species whose senses are keenly attuned to their environment in such a way that any perceived threat from a human, and the horse is off to the other side of the field, is a truly profound experience.

For another species whose anxiety and threat assessment is similar to our own, to connect with us is a true privilege. I would encourage anyone thinking about or considering alternative forms of therapy to consider horses and equine facilitated learning as an option for your mental health maintenance and self-development. We are not so different, and horses can be incredibly helpful to us in this work, if you'll let them.

To conclude, we can learn to be around horses, to be in contact with them, to be in psychological contact not unlike that of with our therapist, through our interactions with them. To be in psychological contact with horses can be profound, change can be quick and immediate, and people are often unprepared for this. However, if you'll let them, horses will change you, from the inside out.

The skills you will pick up from your facilitators will teach you how to get the most from your sessions. The insight and awareness you will gain from being in contact with horses will last you a lifetime. Experiential learning, through equine facilitated learning is an emerging therapy that can teach you a lot about yourself. Reach out to your local equine practitioner today for the support you've been looking for.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Leeds LS1 & York YO23
Written by Kai Manchester, BA (Hons) Integrative Counsellor MNCPS (Acc) Supervisor
Leeds LS1 & York YO23

Kai is a fully qualified Integrative Counsellor and Equine Facilitated Practitioner who works with anxiety, generalised anxiety disorder, trauma, ptsd and more.
Kai did his degree in Integrative Counselling at Coventry University and went on to do his specialist training in EFL at Athena Herd in Kent.
Reach out today to discuss your needs.

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