THE AGENCY OF THE HORSE – AND THE AGENCY OF ME

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I work in the field of EAMH/L, as a provider, educator, and researcher. I am deeply passionate about my work. Because I know it works (and have a gotten deeper understanding of how it works), from my own experiences in the role of the client in EAMH. I spend much of my time thinking about this work, how we can improve it, develop it, do research about it, raise the standards of the educations that are provided and so on.

What I see today are two major phalanges in our field. One that still to a smaller or greater extent still ignores or pay very little attention to horse welfare, from the horse’s perspective. The other phalange moves towards questions like, is it even okay to do any kind of equine assisted work? Client work, is perhaps hurting horses? (with a focus on emotional harm).

I listen to all kinds of perspectives and views. I try to the best of my ability to put myself in different people’s shoes. And I ask myself, how is it to see our field, from their point of view?

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Equine Assisted Mindfulness (EAM) for the Rehabilitation of Cancer Patients - Research Update

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MiMer centre receives fundings from the Ann Kern Godal’s Memorial Fund for Horse Assisted Therapy to set up a study group and lead a research project to test the efficacy of Equine Assisted Mindfulness (EAM) for the rehabilitation of cancer patients

Being diagnosed with cancer and embark in the treatment process is a traumatic experience, and it is common for patients with cancer to experience distress.

Research studies have shown that mindfulness-based stress management interventions, such as the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme, can significantly improve the quality of life of cancer patients.

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The MiMer Global Village – introducing Marta Sikorska

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Marta contacted me in the fall of 2019, wanting to sign up to the first level of our Equines in Therapy and Learning program training (EiT/L) that we were going to run in January 2020 in UK. (Which turned out to be the last of our international trainings before Covid hit us – and I am so glad we got to run it – otherwise I would not have met Marta, at least not with this brilliant timing!)

Marta offers facilitation and mediation service with horses, in person, to her community in Poland, and to an ever-growing international audience online. Everything Marta offers is based on a non-violence philosophy. She works in a very inclusive way, always considering everyone’s welfare and everyone’s perspectives, also the horses’, of course!

As a long time equine assisted growth facilitator (she started this journey in 2008), running an NGO in Poland, she knows what she wants and needs, for herself to grow and for her business to grow and flourish. And she is certainly not short or resources, or great ideas.

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Is what “horse people” do to horses systemic oppression?

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I read an article by Julia Alexander, named: WHAT HORSES TEACH US ABOUT SYSTEMIC OPPRESSION

https://www.juliaalexandercounseling.com/writing/2021/1/14/bfkfoqffc46vqrzstfg2ms0t1s57pj?fbclid=IwAR0NeCXdAPLnSZhnK-STJtT0dE1S0glm_KgP1sqD3fdhzQEWpM8ZRiQWmls

I have been sitting with it for a couple of days, first I reposted an older article/post of mine: Everything hard or stressful is not trauma…

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The DIFFERENCE between Horses and Humans…

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Why is emphasizing the differences between horses and humans so important to me? Isn’t it nicer, kinder of me to look for the similarities? Is not looking for similarities between us and horses making us respect them more? Understand them better? Being able to empathize with them better and therefor provide them with better welfare and happier lives?

I do not think so. Because who am I really empathizing with? The horse? Or myself?

Empathy is recognizing that we are similar, have similar emotions, share some experiences because we all are alive and have experiences… but empathy is also knowing that we all are unique. We have species-specific needs – and then we all have unique, individual needs, personal needs.

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TODAY IS MY STEPFATHER’S BIRTHDAY…

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Don't worry the post is horse related!

He’s been dead for almost 10 years and the last time I met him was over 25 years ago. Still, he is present in my life in a way I wish he weren’t. He was my main abuser and set the stage for much of the rest of the abuse I endured, until I was finally “let go of”.

I grew up not knowing anything but being a victim, or on occasions, a perpetrator, or an enabler. I didn’t know I had choices, in fact, I did not know what a choice was, I didn’t have a voice, I didn’t know how to use a voice, I had no idea about what it felt to be understood, seen, heard. I didn’t grow up to become an autonomous individual.

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The Agency of the Horse vs the Agency of Me…

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For me, as a horse owner, a facilitator of equine assisted interventions, having had a riding school, a boarding facility, it became very important to not only look at the physical welfare of horses, but also their emotional, social and cognitive welfare. I have spent a lot of time the last 17 years thinking of this, from all kinds of aspects and perspectives. I have dived into the books, the clinics, the research – but also the experience of horses. I have prided myself with being a fast learner and a good thinker. Well… 17 years later – I am still not done… and I know with certainty (this is in fact the only thing I am certain of), that I will never really get there…

But it started long before that. It started the first time I entered a riding school when I was 8. I instantly fell in love with horses, but not the environment they where kept in, not the things they were made to do, not the people in the environment. I could hardly stand being in the riding school, but I did not understand why. I really wanted to. I wanted the dream that I read about in horse books for girls, the companionship, the adventures, the camps, the competitions, the hard work of being a horse girl… but I did not manage to go to the riding school, though I kept trying throughout growing up, turning into a young adult. I went to different riding schools (but their concepts were remarkable similar…), I went there, and I quit, I went there, and I quit… again and again and again. If it had not been for my sister, who were a riding instructor, who moved to a farm and had horses of her own, I would probably not be doing what I am doing today. With her, I felt safe enough to try some things out, outside of my comfort zone. That put me up to follow the path I am on today, working with horses and human growth. Doing research in the field, giving educations, assisting in starting programs.

I find the mental and psychological welfare of the horse to be so important. I have dived into topics and questions about choice, decision making, self-care for horses, problem solving, exploration and curiosity, the voice of the horse, his language through behavior, social dynamics in herds – you name it – I will have explored it, thought about it, and probably written something about it – and also of course, about the question of the agency of the horse.

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Emplaced.... you are in relation to where you are…

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There is a lot of talk about embodiment these days. But what we forget is what I call “emplacement”. Where we live, in what environment we live in. And how that affects us.

We too come from nature - we are nature...

I study Cognitive Science – and one branch of it is called 4E Cognition. It stands for embodied, embedded, extended and enactive. Some also add “ecological”, turning it into 5E Cognition.

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INTERNATIONAL HORSE PEOPLE 500 AD…

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In Eurasia, during the 5th century large migrations of people (and their domesticated non-human animals) took place. It was an unstable time politically – with e.g. the downfall of the Roman Empire.

Yesterday I visited an exhibition at the Lund University Historical Museum, called “The Sösdala horsemen – and the equestrian elite of fifth century Europe”.

In Sösdala (and adjacent villages), in today’s southern Sweden, in 1929 and 1961 people digging for gravel and sand found a couple of thoroughly “slaughtered” horse equipment (saddles and tacks), close to a field of graves, a so called stone ship setting at Vätteryd’s burial ground. Some of these graves and these “slaughtered” horse equipment are consistent in time with each other, between 350-450 AD.

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WHAT DO I SEE?

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… or with which of my set of eyes am I looking?

Digesting more of the reading in the course I am taking at the Kerulos Center (https://kerulos.org). This article, by Gay Bradswhaw*, is about the different ways to see, the difference between information and message, the point that knowledge is relational, the difference between collective and subjective knowledge – introducing trans-species psychology and the obvious incongruence that bi-directional inference between human animals and other animals create.

Now I will focus on the seeing…

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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

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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

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​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 nurturance And another for: 2. Companionship, play, exploration, socialization (social learning/creativity/taking part in cultu...
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MINDFULNESS WITH HORSES… WHAT IS THAT?

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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 body You 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 yo...
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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 hypo...
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Horse, horse, horse, horse… he is a horse – and nothing else – but that is very much enough!

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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 i...
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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...
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