By Erin Oakes  

horses running

As seen in the documentary Free Reins, growing number of therapists are using equine-assisted therapy to treat everything from autism to post-traumatic stress disorder. By working with horses these participants are learning valuable life skills; but as any good horseperson knows we can all learn from what horses have to teach. Here's a list of eight things that we can learn from our equine friends:

How to be a good listener.

Even though they don’t speak, horses have a lot to teach us about being good listeners. When we learn to understand what a horse is telling us through body language, we’re learning how to interpret non-verbal communications. Since body language accounts for 90 per cent of the communication between people, this is one area where improvement can help us all.

How to play nice with others. 

As sophisticated herd animals, horses know the importance of getting along. Like us, horses are social animals, with defined roles within their herds. Also like us, they have distinct personalities and a wide range of emotional reactions – happy, sad, stubborn, defiant, loving. In order for the herd to survive, horses have to respect the roles of others and cooperate despite differences. When we work with horses we become part of the herd, and that means learning how to approach others with respect and awareness.

How to set boundaries and respect the boundaries of others.

Ears pinned back, teeth bared, hind leg lifted – a horse gives a clear warning that their personal space has been invaded. By asserting their boundaries while giving the offender a chance to walk away, horses set a good example of how we can stand up for ourselves while avoiding escalating conflict.

FROM THE FILM: Roze on her horse at Hinchinbrook.
How to overcome fear.

Horses are large, powerful animals, it’s understandable to find them intimidating or even frightening. Overcoming that initial fear and learning to work alongside a horse can be a great confidence builder. Confronting a fear and working through it can leave us feeling empowered and ready to take on other intimidating situations in life.

How to trust.

Horses are straightforward in their relationships. They don’t judge, they don’t blame and they won’t tell your secrets. If you have a hard time opening up to others, horses can offer a non-judgemental relationship where you can practice building trust. Over time that experience can be applied to human relationships too.

How to be a good leader.

They can charge, stamp and deliver a powerful kick. They can also move an entire herd with the flick of an ear. Horses know that a display of power is not the best way to get others to follow. Like us, horses disengage when confronted by an intimidating leader. Leading a herd is about partnership, trust and communication. If you want to be a good leader, follow a horse’s example. 

The value of a hard day’s work.

Whether it’s grooming, mucking out the stalls or communicating cross-species, horses require us to work hard. In an era of instant gratification, horses have a lot to teach us about the value of physical and mental effort. A useful lesson in all aspects of life.

What you are really feeling.

You may be able to fool other people, but you can never fool a horse. Horses know exactly how you are feeling and, more importantly, mirror it back. Sometimes the reflection is unexpected. Because of their ability to read human facial expressions and to provide an instant reaction, horses are great teachers of self-awareness. If your horse is agitated, chances are you are too. 

For more lessons from horses, watch Free Reins.

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