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The ”real” horses and their expressiveness – the Koniks at Wicken Fen

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A dual process…

In February this year, just before the Corona took over the world – I was in UK. We had given two trainings, but also manged so squeeze in one visit to the Exmoors and one to Wicken Fen, to see horses who live more or less in a semi-feral way.

We went to Wicken Fen the last day before I returned to Sweden. I have waited to write much about that visit, because I did not know how to. Now I have been sitting with the dual processes that took place (or there were more than two – but these two signifies the main themes of my visit there).

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Moving motivation

moving motivation

The other day I was puppy-proofing our apartment to be ready for our new furry family member and it got me thinking about the reasons for why I move, what motivates me in the process and what goals I enjoy working towards. These thoughts started running through my head as I was squatting underneath a table in the middle of my partner’s music equipment cable jungle. Organizing those cables in a tight space in between lots of sensitive “toys”, truly put my movement practice into something functional. There was a moment of “aha!” as I did my best to move in between the cables without tripping on anything and causing an expensive accident. There was a functional task with a goal: “organize and hide the cables”. The task required many odd and awkward positions, fluidity of movement, and precision, like playing “the cables are lava”. At that moment I was thankful for the movement practice I’ve done, as it makes these kinds of everyday tasks easier to do. Yes, that is the goal of my practice in general. 

Sometimes I forget why I practice, besides the obvious physical and psychological benefits. As sometimes, just knowing that it is good for the body-mind is not enough to get one moving. Lack of motivation is also a real thing for a movement enthusiast like me. That is where defining one’s motivation to move comes into the picture. For some, it is enough to get to practice simply because they want to be able to do e.g. a handstand or run a marathon. For others, like me, these types of goals may lack deeper meaning, and causes a struggle to consistently practice towards a goal that feels more like a “party-trick” (and don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that!) than something with “real-life value” or functionality. 

Motivation plays a big role in keeping a consistent movement practice. Having intrinsic motivation and -goal helps to keep the practice going on in the long term. 

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The Imitation Game – Part 2

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The Imitation Game is a Perception Game…

(And bear with me... this is about horses - and horse-human interaction, too.... I am stumbleing around about in this post - the text is not crystal clear - yet - I wanted to share it - something is forming in me, about the importance of embodiment, the shared nature of perception, how we form our beliefs as humans - how horses can help us see this - by being them.)

The imitation I talk about here has nothing to do with copying or imitating for its own sake. Imitation is an important way to, and of learning. You find imitation (of various kind; mimicking, mirroring, emulation, “true” imitation, teaching, schooling/herd/group behavior) in social learning, in language learning, in so called situated learning – as e.g. in apprenticeship models, etc. Imitation is also an important tool when to getting to know someone (as in the chameleon effect – which is about creating/ “achieving” liking each other – and in creating a common ground of understanding and communicating with each other – creating social contracts). Imitation is so much more than copying – and play a big role in all mammals’ development and growth into adults, but also in adult life. It is a corner stone of how we interact with each other, albeit often imitation is not conscious, it can be looked at, made conscious, and experimented with.

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Explorations in "stuckness" & novelty

finding novelty
​Our minds feed on motion. Horses' minds feed on motion. Both humans and horses evolved to thrive through motion. The mind and the body function as a holistic system where an ongoing interplay between different parts is present. Each part is communicating to one another constantly, creating a feedback loop where actions and reactions affect each other.We've come to understand the importance and benefits of movement to the mind (and rest of our and horses' bodily functions), created lots of programs, systems and models of moving ourselves and our horses. We have created structures that promise ...
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WHERE ARE YOU?

Where are you?
How many Attachment systems do we have?Bowlby's Attachment theory outlines one Attachment system, with variations on how we attach dependent on how well the relationship between the mother (primary caretaker) and infant functions and develops.Then I started to read Trevarthen and his work with infants and mothers (primary caretakers) – and how he sees our human development in our attachment systems as distinctly 2-folded with one system for:1. Care, protection, and nurturanceAnd another for:2. Companionship, play, exploration, socialization (social learning/creativity/taking part in culture)&n...
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MINDFULNESS WITH HORSES… WHAT IS THAT?

mindfulness with horses
Being mindful is being open to any experience, any moment – staying in them, but not disappearing into them. You pause and:You look at youYou listen to youYou notice your feelingsYou notice your breathYou notice your thoughtsYou notice your bodyYou give yourself that safe space of holding yourself and whatever goes on with you without judging, drawing conclusions, analyzing, valuing, censoring – any of it. You stay with the experience, without holding on to it – you let it pass, leave and stay open to the next moment that is arriving. You are in you – at the same time as you are observing your...
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The Imitation Game...

The Imitation Game
During our EiT/L training in Kent a week ago – I was privileged to see something I knew existed – but never before so obviously have presented itself before my eyes – when I had a camera in my hand and was in an observing role. Now I had the opportunity to see the whole interaction play out and take photos of it. It felt like someone had given me a precious gift!I was watching a horse during those moments she understood a human was imitating her. It was fascinating to follow the exchange of communication between them. How the horse first wondered what was going on, then had the though (a hypot...
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Horse, horse, horse, horse… he is a horse – and nothing else – but that is very much enough!

a horse is a horse
The woman, who had been feeling depressed for a long time, and felt she could not climb out of her own rabbit hole, and not really describe to her therapist what was "wrong" with her, had been offered to come and have equine-assisted therapy. She did not really know what that was, so she googled it. She found a lot of web pages describing facilities, therapists, organizations, and models telling about how fantastic equine-assisted therapy is. It seemed that finally, she was going to have some therapy that would help. She could read about how horses would be able to read her body language, how ...
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Cohesion, Synchrony, Swarm Intelligence, and Hierarchy – Group-Structure and Dynamics in Horse Bands

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Social animals live in groups, that include horses, as well as dogs and humans. So what do these group structures look like? How are they organized? What principles do they follow?Humans have for a long time wanted to see and prove hierarchy structures in other species, besides our own, but are hierarchies really there, in the way many of us think of them? If they are, what purpose are they then serving? Or are they just a misunderstanding from our side?First of all, I think we mix things up. Other animals, besides humans, are living, spending their lives in different kinds of groups. That is ...
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The other (species) – as a reference point in therapeutic work and personal growth

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The beginning of an exploration…Why do we work with animals in therapy and learning programs? Having been involved in equine assisted therapy and learning for some years, as an equine professional, educator and mindfulness instructor – and as a client, this is what I think of it (right now…)To grow, to develop, to heal – we need "the other", that sees us, accepts us, accompanies, challenges and supports us – and at times comforts us, to help us see ourselves from their perspective. Animals in Animal Assisted Activities of any kind are not different in these settings to what they are in ot...
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Everything hard or stressful is not trauma…

stress and trauma
The difference between trauma and stress and the difference between trauma in humans and "trauma" in non-humansThe picture below shows the window of tolerance (and window of learning). This is the window in you that needs to be open enough for you to learn something new. It demands the factors – openness and tolerance to new information (but potentially also new situations, new environments, new beings (humans, non-humans) to relate to).  When you move too far to the left side in this picture (or bottom if you turn the picture around – a window has 4 frames…), you will gradually defend yo...
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Learning as Welfare - Good EAP is Positive Equine Welfare

learning horses
Horses, as all other living beings, thrive when they learn. One of our basic mammalian emotional systems is the seeking system, which is strongly linked to our attraction to rewards. The seeking system is motivated by our attraction to novelty and elicit emotions such as anticipation, curiosity, and eagerness (and is balanced by the fear system) (Panksepp & Biven, 2012).Making it look like this: Or – it goes more in a spiral movement – it is a circular and forward movement at the same time. We have a "novelty center" (the substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area or SN/VTA) in the brainstem ...
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Unicorn Assisted Therapy

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Or why we work with HORSES in EAP…*Trigger warning – to be read with personal and professional self-distance*Unicorn Unlimited is offering Unicorn Assisted Therapy (UAT) to everybody who wants to be healed. Come and meet our unicorns, and we promise you some magical and unforgettable moments. They will find what is broken in you and mend it. This they do by being in resonance with our ancestors, their ancestors, the earth, the universe, all spirits and all shamanic power that is "out there", and everything else magical and unexplainable. They will also send heart waves your way and cohere your...
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Can horses get traumatized?

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... or why I am not an EMHP (Equine Mental Health Practitioner) …Yes. They can. Is the short answer. The next question would be, do they get traumatized in the same way as humans? I am inclined to say no.Why?Because the horse mind is not the same as the human mind.Horses and humans share much of their CNS (Central Nervous System), as all mammals do. This means we biologically react in similar ways to stress, and thereby to trauma. This we know from research on "animal models" (which is a nicer way to say that we do all the research we are not ethically allowed to do on humans, on ani...
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Horses, emotions and feelings…

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Or – can human feelings be dangerous to horses?In my experience horses have no problems when people are coming to them with strong emotions or feelings. That is, as long as the person is owning her own emotions or feelings and taking responsibility for them.(Note – to make it easier for me through the text, I refer to feelings as emotions you are cognitively aware of, and to emotions as the raw emotion that you can feel but can't yet cognitively understand/place/identify – but that you can learn to regulate. I also refer to the client, therapist and equine professional as her, and to the ...
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I am an EMHP – an Equine Mental Health Professional…

20190624-DSC_7867 Reciprocity - Mutual grooming
Or – how do we get to know the inner life of horses? How do we really get to know them? How do we know what they feel? Experience?When I work in teams in equine assisted activities and therapies – this is what I am. I am an EMHP – an Equine Mental Health Professional. It took me 7 years to figure that out… or at least I am testing it out…I "went" from being an equine specialist to an equine cognitive scientist/professional – to just being an equine professional – and considering calling myself an equine behavioral professional, but stuck with just equine professional, EP. I think I a might cal...
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What lies beyond training?

beyond training
In these times of thriving fitness industry and exercise hype, I find it interesting to look into how horses life and training regime is seen. Is it training that is in the center of attention or being a hrose? Is it exercise or is it movement? Sometimes thinking about horses is easier through thinking about humans. Sometimes it is the other way around. In this piece of text, sometimes, you can replace the word "horse" with "human" if you wish to look at it from that angle as well. I don't mean to say that horses and humans are the same but to express how at times it i...
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Remembering Ourselves and Observations

observation
Both horses and humans respond to environmental changes, including changes in other individuals. Movement, new people, new sounds, new conditions can all affect how we and our horses behave. It is important, then, to recognize that our horses respond to changes in us, too.Horses are quiet herbivores who have evolved to be constantly observing their surroundings and their herd for changes. Anyone of them can signal the others to new conditions and they all learn to rely on each other for survival. In domestic conditions, we often keep our horses in smaller areas with fewer conspecifics, and som...
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The Importance of Time

just being in the pasture
I'm in the middle of a research study that asks participants to go out into the herd and spend time with horses without agendas or pre-determined activities. I have restrictions on the kinds of interactions they are allowed to have, but give them permission to approach the horses and let the horses approach them. But if the horse leaves, they are not allowed to pursue.There are lots of reasons why I'm doing this study. I want to look at how individual horse behavior changes with different associations with individuals and the choices participants make with regards to their interactions. They a...
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I see you – the necessary skill/art of observing/noticing

observation
I have been interviewing and talking to horse nomads, horse herders in Mongolia, and I asked them, how did you learn about horses? How do you become a good horse professional? And with smaller variations, they always answer the same: You need to spend a lot of time with horses, be with them, watch them, get to know them, and let them get to know you. By doing this constantly and for long periods of time – you develop a way of understanding them, without having words for it, and they, in the same way, develop a way of understanding you. It is a mutual and reciprocal process.And almost all of th...
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