AS THE PERSON ENTERS the horse’s round pen there is an immediate reaction.
The horse might respond in a variety of ways, such as facing the person directly or wandering away. It all depends on the person’s energy.
“Thousands of years of nonverbal communication between horses in herd environments have made them masters at reading and communicating body language and intention,” Equine Connection owner Ben Skerrett says.
“Even the subtlest shift in energy or emotion from a horse can be sensed and interpreted by another horse without the need for verbalisation.”
Ben grew up with horses, but it was in his 20s that he realised through their powerful body language, horses were teaching him more than he realised.
Ben, who also owns BLS Horsemanship in Valdora, recently opened Equine Connection to offer holistic healing.
This form of therapy can help address many different mental, emotional and physical conditions, from autism and post-traumatic stress disorder to physical disabilities and addictions.
“As human beings our bodies continuously transmit subtle energies which are consistent with our mental and emotional state,” he says.
“What makes horses so good at helping people is their exceptional ability to pick up on these subtle energies and reflect them back to us.
“They respond with incredible accuracy to how we really are in the present moment.”
Ben says the horses act as a doorway for clients to let go of their personas and masks, and find their authentic selves.
“Even when we try to hide our feelings horses will still respond to our underlying emotions.
Horses can see through the social masks that we often wear in order to conceal how we are really feeling.
“Horses honour us when we are true to ourselves. When we are authentic, and we allow ourselves to be emotionally vulnerable, horses always respond in an amazingly supportive, nurturing and healing way.”
The practice of using horses therapeutically dates back to the ancient Greeks, with the earliest recorded writings from Hippocrates, who was a physician and mentioned the value of horses in the healing process.
The benefit of using horses therapeutically was also mentioned in 17th century writings – horse riding was prescribed for people with gout, neurological disorder and low morale.
Most modern-day equine-related therapies have emerged in the past 80 years, which has brought with it a more widespread awareness and understanding of its uses and benefits.
Ben studied with Linda Kohanov, who developed Eponaquest, a model of equine-facilitated experiential learning (EFEL) and personal development in the 1990s.
“Even though I already had my counselling diploma, I really wanted to integrate my love for horses and my horsemanship skills into a much more embodied way of empowering people,” Ben says.
So what can clients expect from a session? Each one begins with a body scan, which, says Ben, “is a tool we use to get people to scan down their body and notice any sensations they have going on”.
This could be tingling in their hands, aches in their shoulders, a fast-beating heart or tension on one side of the body.
Ben then asks clients to expand that sensation.
“And I ask that sensation for a message.
They usually get an intuitive message.
This can sometimes be a poetic phrase, a picture, a word. It can come in all different forms.
I ask them to go back to the sensation and see if it’s been changed, if it’s been shifted or diminished.
“If it’s shifted to another sensation we ask for a message from that sensation as well.
Once the sensation has been diminished the client enters the horse pen.”
Ben stands outside the pen and watches closely as the client interacts with the horse.
“Sometimes if the person can’t get the horse to move, the horse is bored.
That person may need to learn leadership-based skills and that would include engaging with the horse and motivating it to join them.
This can be achieved by using circular sweeping motions to draw the horse’s energy towards them and using more assertive means to connect.”
After such leadership sessions, many of Ben’s clients feel they can embody the energy of being a leader.
Ben says these active types of sessions can be more effective than self-development seminars where people sit and take notes.
“By going to a seminar we get information but we don’t embody what we need to do.
In a session with a horse that energy stays with you, rather than something written down on paper.”
One of Ben’s favourite moments has been during a reflective session, which involves bringing a person’s desires to the forefront.
“Once I witnessed a lady whose heart’s desire was related to self-love and loving herself for who she was.
She was trying to get the attention of the horse but the more she wanted its love and attention [the more] it would walk away.
“When she finally let go and started loving herself it embraced her and acknowledged her.
When she turned and faced the horse she opened up and cried.
It was quite a powerful experience for her.
She had that epiphany that she didn’t love herself, and the horse confirmed that.”
Ben says as a society people are often conditioned by other people’s agendas and belief systems, leaving them with little self-esteem.
“But it’s all in our head.
If we haven’t been successful we believe this to be true.
If we listen to our heart it has a different feeling and message.
“It’s often quite abstract.
But once they go in there, and have the experience, it’s quite profound what happens. The synchronicity of it, it’s quite magical.”
words penny shipway photos anastasia kariofyllidis