Sep 30, 2021
Explore the connection between horses and humans
By Lori Draz
The spectacular sight of horses is familiar in County Monmouth. New Jersey’s romance with the horse is so strong and so long that the horse is the official animal of the state of New Jersey.
Anyone who has been around horses can tell you that a special bond is forged with these animals, despite their imposing size and power. Now it seems what people have instinctively known for years is backed up by science.
Horses play an important role as therapy animals, helping people of all ages with a wide variety of conditions find calm, stabilized moods and improved outlook.
According to WebMD, âtaking care of horses takes focus, selflessness and teamwork. Horse-assisted therapy programs can help people improve self-esteem, self-awareness, and empathy, and can benefit those who are dealing with relationship issues, grief, anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, substance abuse and eating disorders.
People who need physiotherapy or occupational therapy also work with specially trained horses to build strength, balance and improve spatial awareness. Some of the conditions that have benefited from it include autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, neuromuscular disease, paralysis, spinal cord injury, and traumatic brain injury. There are even specialized programs that help ex-combatants, especially those with PTSD, re-enter civilian life, develop communication skills, emotional regulation, and confidence.
Sally Nilsson is a former London corporate lawyer who is now a professional life coach and horse assisted learning facilitator in Costa Rica. She is a co-owner of Tula Vida, a rainforest sanctuary offering transformational equestrian experiences and retreats. Gretchen Morgan, LCSW and owner of Lighthouse Counseling & Sand Play Training Center in Eatontown, has worked with Sally in Costa Rica to provide therapy workshops with horses for six years.
Nilsson explained, âHorses have spent the last 56 million years on Earth developing an incredible ability to sense their surroundings and the intention of other beings, and to work together as a herd – essential survival skills for the preys. Horses have associated with humans throughout our history, changing the nature of hunting, travel, agriculture, warfare, sport, and more recently healing and emotional intelligence. Horses’ natural sensory abilities, as well as our special relationship with them, leave them uniquely qualified to fulfill this therapeutic role.
One of these modalities, known as equine assisted learning, involves exercises where horses interact with humans to help people get to know themselves and their relationships. There is a growing body of published scientific data and studies showing that horses not only help us with our emotions, but interacting with them has a beneficial physiological effect on heart rate variability, blood pressure, overall cardiovascular health. and on the nervous system.
âIn my 25 years of clinical work, I have never seen such a powerful modality – I have seen clients get regulated at high speed and walk away feeling restored, hopeful and ready to embrace life. daily, âMorgan said.
Nilsson added, âHorses have an incredible ability to sense what’s going on with us and respond to it. They don’t judge us and so we can fine tune our own presence and approach until the connection is right for both of us. Experiencing it is also a powerful way to improve human relationships.
More recently, Nilsson and Morgan created a program called ‘Heal the Healers’ to meet the needs of frontline workers around the world who have experienced compassion fatigue and burnout due to the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. . Participants spend a week immersed in nature in Costa Rica’s vibrant rainforest, partnering with a herd of horses in a range of facilitated activities like painting, leading, breathing, connecting, yoga, journaling , etc. – all designed to calm their system and bring back a feeling of balance and peace. Participants describe it as “a transformational mental, physical and spiritual healing experience.”
âYou don’t need any experience with horses to benefit from it,â Nilsson said. âIn fact, a lot of people are afraid of horses when they arrive but leave feeling like horses are their new best friends!
For more information on experiences and retreats, or to find these types of experiences near you, visit TulaVida.com.
Donna Lombardi, a rider with 35 years of experience and manager of Whispering Pines Farm, shared a personal and in-depth look at what a horse-assisted therapy experience is. Lombardi explained that her husband and his horses are her family. She has owned most of them for over 10 years and knows each of their stories and specialties. Many of these horses are currently competitive national champions moving quickly from the ring to therapy. She explained that the person seeking therapy is blindfolded and the horse selects the person.
âIt’s beautiful to watch,â she said. âSometimes one person attracts a horse, some people attract several horses. Horses instinctively sense a person’s needs and match each other based on that. Then the person spends time with the horse. It’s easy for people to accept that dogs and cats can make you feel better and given the size of a horse you get many multiples of this healing energy.
Inna Danieli, LCSW, MBA, is a Psychotherapist with many specialties who also uses Horse Assisted Therapy at Whispering Pines Farm. She said that horses communicate with electromagnetic fields generated by their circulatory system; the same is true with the human heart and non-verbal communication begins immediately. They are natural bio-feedback monitors. Even people who are afraid of horses are transformed within hours.
Lombardi continued, âI am so proud of these horses and always amazed at how supernatural the experience is. Some people find their answers and their peace after a single session of two or four hours. Others go to the farm every week, and others book weekends at the hotel just to hang out with the horses. Each client says they consider their hours with the horses a very healing and spiritual time. To learn more, visit WhisperingPinesHorse.Wixsite.com/WhisperingPinesFarm.
Locally, in conjunction with the Monmouth County park system, Special People United to Ride (SPUR), is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit that provides people with disabilities the opportunity to achieve personal goals through therapeutic riding. It started in the late 1970s as a popular movement for therapeutic riding began to develop. In 1978, the Monmouth County Park System got involved and, after several relocations, SPUR now resides in the Sunnyside Recreation Area in Lincroft. SPUR offers eight-week therapeutic riding programs for children and adults and an equine environment for learning programs. SPUR also offers specially tailored horse workshops for heroes for veterans and active duty military personnel, including Equine Harmony for Heroes, equine psychology programs, and group and individual riding workshops. All programs are led by PATH International Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructors and Equine Specialists.
Take the time to learn about the many horse farms in our region, and stop for a refreshing moment whenever you see one of these majestic animals passing by.
O15ALL (1): Donna Lombardi with her horses
O15ALL (2) – (4)
O15ALL (6), (7): Photos courtesy of Donna Lombardi, Whispering Pines Farms