REFLECTIONS ON EQUINE WELFARE AND HORSE-HUMAN CO-EXISTENCE

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…and on relationship building in general.

I hear, meet, speak to, more and more people who choose to fully remove themselves from almost any kind of interaction with horses (not so much other animals), and any kind of equine assisted interventions (EAI). Because they feel that the way we humans typically (and traditionally) are interacting, have been interacting – with horses, does not feel good to them, does not sit well with them.

I have struggled with this for years. To me it looks like plain avoidance. Instead of being, staying in a difficult relationship, that can be hard to navigate, but rewarding, many choose to give up, to remove themselves. And decides that humans are, in general “bad” for/to horses (and I often the reasoning is that unaware, highly emotional “clients” would be the worst humans for a horse to be around). But there are several different parts to this – from what I have seen and heard. Some of it has to do with convictions that us humans are not allowed to request anything from a horse. As they have not chosen to be here, with us. While I understand that argument, I also do not believe in one-sided relationships. In relationships, requests go both ways. As responses do.

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HORSES AND SELF-CARE

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Ponderings related to the field of equine assisted interventions…

Something most therapists, even coaches or whomever work to help people feel better and grow aim at is for their clients to be able to take better care of themselves. Self-care is a topic at the center of many interventions. Or at least, part of them.

The point with self-care – as one can hear from the name – is that it is based on your own ability to care for yourself. Part of self-care can be to reach out and ask for help, but also to accept that when that help is not possible to be gotten, it does not say anything about the validity of your request.

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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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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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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, o...

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