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  • Writer's pictureRachelle Millar

Horse Assisted Relationship Therapy

Updated: Jul 11, 2021

The essence of relating or being in relationship flow is, "I am feeling you, feeling me, moment to moment. In the present. When we are dealing with trauma, we can often disrupt that opportunity to build healthy relational skills and bonds.

We only heal in relationship.

Even if it is a relationship with ourselves.

How we treat ourselves inside our heads when dealing with issues from the past, when we have got it wrong, has everything to do with how we might show up in relationship.

When we are operating from our past selves, (the one that survived childhood) then we are operating from our limbic brain/snake brain or that fight/flight or freeze response. The goal of therapy is learning to respond from our adult brain the frontal lobe. Most especially in relationship.

Soothing the inner child within us is able to be achieved moment to moment, only if we are aware of our selves and our behaviour. Who are we being, that we don't know we are being that is causing this outcome (most especially the outcome that we are not wanting).

Today, I went to hold Silverado, Oskar's horse as he was trying to take her cover off and get her to stand. She wanted to be back with the herd and had wound herself up running back and forth along the fenceline.

Oskar was grumping at her to stand still. When I took her leadrope, I patted and cuddled and connected to her and said that we were here, we were her herd now and we will look after her. I was able to sooth her in relationship. She settled and Oskar took the cover off her.

It wasn't until I was driving home from dropping Oskar and Silverado off to practice at the arena that I realised why what I did, worked. Gain the insight across what I do in the therapy room with clients. And how I could explain the power of equine therapy.

Horses are incredibly sensitive creatures, being in a herd, in relationship is key for them. The natural order of the herd is important to whether they feel safe or not, the herd leader (alpha) is watching out for everyone and if that happens, then the rest of the herd relaxes.

As humans to create a successful partnership with our horses we have to learn to be a part of the herd. Of course, we can become a part of the herd and have a relationship that is one of fear or one of love. Either way, there will always be a symbiotic relationship. If it is of fear then the horse will react from fear, if it is love then they will react from love.

When I introduce a client to partake in equine therapy, one of the first things that I do is teach them about being safe around horses. We take it as fast as is fair to the client and the horse. Everything is done in the present. For the client, they have to be in the present, connect to their breath and to be in their frontal lobe.

One time, I had a couple of ladies come for a Horsefulness (Mindfulness with horses) class. For the first time, I chose to leave the horses in their paddocks, their space. Working through the fact that after the initial greeting to us as we had treats, we sat in their paddock and the horses did not come near us again. One of the ladies said that she would of preferred that we did the class in the arena and the horses would of had to be with us (which I have done before), gaining this insight we were able to look at her issues around control.

The horses show us what we need to see, we have to feel safe enough to share our reactions and explore what comes up for us. All in our own time.

I have horses that have only ever been treated with love and kindness. I have horses that I have rescued from spaces were they have known fear and pain. When a new horse comes into the herd, they don't know and neither do I how we might find our way with each other. But after a while, the horses settle into their space and herd when they realise that they are safe and this is a place of love.

When clients come to an individual or group session, we will unpack what it means to even turn up. At the start the horses trust me, the goal of ongoing sessions is for the clients to build trust with the horse and confidence in themselves.

Why is equine therapy so powerful for tamariki or rangatahi?

Simply because as children we come into this world innocent and full of light. Coming to do equine assisted learning or therapy early in our lives enables them to heal faster, to learn quicker because there is less to undo. Horses are a delight to children, the opportunity to learn to be with a horse is huge. Quite often they are open to it, whereas walking into a counselling room evokes way more fear.

The horse is a lot less judgemental about why you are there, than our own inner critic.

Some say horses are a mirror to our souls. I say we can project anything onto anyone. If horses evoke a reaction in us, we get to ask the question who am I being that produces this outcome? And that is where the opportunity for self awareness and reflection sits.

Contact us to learn more about our Horsefulness sessions, individual equine therapy or the Rangatahi Hoiho Connection Programmes by texting Rachelle on 0276584552 or via email

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