How Equine Therapy Increases Self-Compassion and Self-Awareness

Self-compassion and self-awareness are improved through equine therapy because both horses and humans are based in the herd instinct (tribe, band, family, etc). Without the herd, isolation is fatal. The fundamental well being of each individual in the herd is vital to the wellbeing of the herd as a whole. Humans possess the intellectual capacity to completely isolate themselves on the experiential/emotional level. However, horses have no intellect, yet are powerful communicators. As a result, equine therapy is proving to be an effective solution to the human condition of emotional isolation.


The Herd Instinct

The herd instinct is a core survival instinct. Our human survival instincts are the characteristics that allow us to change, adapt and seize new goals. Horses will ask to join with humans as fellow herd members when physically together in the physical context. In this context, the well being of each member of the herd is vital. An impaired member of the herd offers less mutual protection than healthy herd members, thus reducing the odds of survival. The horse’s survival instinct compels them to help and heal other members of the herd.


Human Isolation and The Brain

In order to understand the human ability to intellectually isolate from others, it is useful to understand that humans have three brains. In essence, there are three distinct brain operating systems:  

  • The survival brain (reptilian cortex)
  • The emotional/experiential brain (old mammalian/limbic system)
  • The neo-cortex (thinking brain), which uses language (words) and includes a temporal lobe (concept of time)


Horses and the Experiential Brain

Horses do not have the neo-cortex. Consequently, they have no words to label things. On the other hand, humans have intellect. However, horses have no intellect, no logic, no reason. They only have experience, empathy. The horse’s considerable intelligence is entirely experiential/emotional in nature. Horses are very attuned to human emotions and their awareness of past experience in humans is astounding. They have an acute awareness of the experiential/emotional part of the brain. It is like the amazing olfactory intelligence of the canine. The dog’s ability to smell is 40 times greater. Dogs have 300 million olfactory nerves compared to 6 million in humans. The sensitivity of a horse’s ability for empathy is incredibly accurate and detailed. It is likewise astronomically superior to the human ability to intellectually grasp what is happening in the experiential/emotional part of the brain.


Horses Know Your True Feelings

When horses interact with humans in the herd context, they will convey an accurate reflection of the human’s experiences and emotions. In equine therapy, the horse responds to you with immediate feedback. This allows you to become aware of, and regulate, your emotional responses. This process is based in the survival imperative that each member of the herd is a valuable, fully enfranchised part. The word compassion alone does not begin to describe the feeling that one is being accurately understood, without judgment. A horse accepts you for what and who you truly are with all the intellectual smoke and mirrors removed. Horses offer unconditional love. They are great healers. Furthermore, they are masters of body language and know when you are being honest. You cannot hide your nonverbal feelings. That is one of the core elements of how self-compassion and self-awareness are dynamically improved during equine therapy.


Come, see me and see what I mean! Horses ARE healing.

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