There are no coincidences in life. Two women who fell in love with horses – Maria Bielak, an owner of Zadora stable, and Anna Łaszcz, psychologist, met at the right time and decided to organize equine-assisted development workshops for youngsters and adults. Can horses help us to grow?
What benefits come from interaction with horses?
Maria Bielak: Horses teach us humility, consequence, perseverance, and relentless development on multiple levels.
Anna Łaszcz: For me, contact with a horse is a lesson of being here and now, focusing on yourself, and seeking peace and relaxation in your body. Benefits are as many as people, and everybody can take whatever they need in this particular moment. Horses are excellent teachers and companions if you want to listen to them.
People say that horses are a mirror to your soul. How is that possible? Why can they be beneficial in self-development?
MB: They are communication masters and perfectly can feel all emotions. It is hard to fool a horse, they demand authenticity, and in a way, they force constant development.
AŁ: It can be said that they look straight into our hearts. It is not about our social status or life role we’d like to play. They see us sauté: our fears, dreams, self-confidence, or insecurities. When we reflect on our relationship with a horse, we can see our schemes, needs, or behaviors, which in our daily life are unconscious. This kind of knowledge is very releasing.
How these kinds of workshops look like in practice? Is it similar to coaching or therapy?
AŁ: In practice, tempo and deepness of work depend on participants. There are groups and people when workshops look more like coaching sessions. A lot of exercises are connected with the goals of participants. We continuously evaluate the current situation and check what we would like to change. At the same time, we are working with emotions, values, thinking patterns, and beliefs. In this way, it can be therapeutical. Development workshops are a time for yourself. Horses are here to help us open up and listen to what’s inside us.
In reference to the workshop’s title – how can horses help us discover our way?
AŁ: Depending on what we want to work on, experience with horses can be a universal tool to work with our inside software. In the case of the workshop’s Own Way, horses’ main task is to draw each participant from the perpetuated behavioral scheme. Motivate to focus on here and now, on relations and our inside world. A considerable part of what is happening to us in brain processes is unconscious. And here, the presence of a horse, which forces us to be 100% aware, is the first step to verify if we are on OUR Own way. The horse sees if we want to do something in the kindness of our hearts, or we want to do it because it is appropriate. They can show when we have too much or not enough strength. And this is your own way– living in harmony with yourself, your heart, values, and what is ‘alive’ inside us.
I read that one of the basic exercises is just observing horses. How can we refer that to development?
AŁ: Observation of horses and yourself. It is a beautiful and multidimensional exercise. Its’ goal is to introduce participants to the state of relaxation and aware observation. The nervous system starts to self-regulate, the tension drops. Serenity comes up. Then we begin to work on relations and boundaries. Self-observation is a key to realizing emotions, thoughts, and feelings that come up when we watch the herd. Every participant receive worksheet which is leading their focus. After that, we discuss how it helps to perceive and accept different insights and feelings. And it is a beautiful prologue to what is truth, judgment, and projection. To differentiate facts from opinions is a crucial step in self-development.
In therapeutic work, people often experience enlightenments when they suddenly understand how their patterns work. Do participants also share these kinds of feelings?
AŁ: Yes. Sometimes, the workshops’ effect is perceiving a scheme that doesn’t serve us. Other times it is understanding of emotions. Sometimes we even try to change our way of thinking and harmful beliefs to those that help us grow.
In the past, facilitators addressed these workshops mainly to managers and corporate workers. They were growing leadership qualities. But what can an ordinary person learn from it?
MB: A lot, but it depends on the exercises and the direction led by the facilitator.
AŁ: A few years ago, competencies growth was connected with the business, similar to therapeutic work to patients. Today we know that we can use these tools in a broad context. The goal is to feel better with our inner software. To better understand ourselves and other people, to have more energy, contentment, and sense of life. To live life to the fullest and feel that we have an impact. Development workshops help us in the dailiness – perceive where we are and which area is the most important.
I know it is groundwork; participants don’t ride horses. Can it be beneficial also for equestrians?
MB: Equestrian is a human being and has to develop its inner self, the same as everybody else. But when it comes to direct impact, it could be beneficial for beginners to reduce anxiety.
AŁ: A lot of people speak about reducing fear. From the perspective of the training process of equestrian and the horse, seeking relaxation is crucial. Moreover, during exercises, we start being more confident, and this aspect in horse riding is very important. Whether we are on a horse or stepping beside it, we set the direction. The road depends on our motivation. In both cases, the vast role play consistency of communication: heart – thoughts – body.
Horse-assisted education or equine-assisted therapy are new fields, so scientists are careful with evaluating effectiveness. There are still not many empirical studies, but from your experience – does it work?
MB: No one ever was dissatisfied. People often come back to work on other topics, and they recommend our workshops. I think it’s the best review.
AŁ: I think that lacking empirical studies is an oversimplification. If projected accurately, HAE will be the same efficient as every workshop based on Kolb’s experiential learning cycle. Therapeutical or coaching effects will depend on facilitators and their relationship with the participants. The same as in the case of conventional workshops in training rooms. Horses, their presence, and participation are not a form of preferential treatment. They aren’t magical tools that will solve all problems. However, they give us huge possibilities, scientifically tested – in a hippotherapeutic or naturotherapeutic context. During workshops, participants can experience authentic relations with an animal. Working with a horse grows curiosity, involves emotions, and creates unique educational circumstances. From a neurobiological perspective, equine-assisted work initiates permanent changes in thinking patterns. Horses are our guides, catalysts to change, and mentors.