Horses, Humans, and the Frequencies of Connection

Posted on March 15, 2011

 

by Lisa Walters  and  Dr. Ann Baldwin

Copyright 2010
For the past 10 years, the Equine Facilitated Learning field has been growing at a rapid pace. Many of the profound interactions that years ago were rare are now fairly commonplace. While still profound, these more frequent occurrences take place because people are shifting their perspective, expanding their awareness, and changing the way they interact with horses. In this process, new aspects of horse and human nature are revealed.

Up until recently, there has been no known scientific research conducted on the relationship between horse and human. There have been hundreds of years of anecdotal accounts, but until recent years there was not adequate portable technology to measure or record what was happening energetically between these two sentient beings. A few years ago, while reading the Institute of Noetic Sciences SHIFT magazine, There was an article describing the type of technology that might make this research possible. It turned out that there are now sensitive electronic devices such as the “SQUID” (Superconducting Quantum Interference Device) machines, which can detect electromagnetic fields 8-10 feet away from the body. With this type of equipment, the HeartMath Institute, in Boulder CA. discovered that these electromagnetic fields are being emitted by the heart organ and that these electromagnetic signals are 5,000 times stronger than those emitted by the brain.

Researchers at HeartMath have been studying the heart-brain relationship for quite some time and have discovered very interesting facts about this relationship. Their research has shown that the heart not only emits a strong electromagnetic field, it can also affect the brainwave frequencies of another person. And while it may not be scientifically proven at this time, it appears that  each “heart field” may be responding to other electromagnetic heart-fields. It appears that the heart perceives these electromagnetic fields and directs other organs to respond, full seconds before the brain is involved!

Could these electromagnetic fields be part of what we call intuition?” Was this apparent “perception” of the heart an example of when we “just know” something, but are not sure how we know it? Some people call this “gut knowing,” but maybe it is more appropriately “heart knowing.”

The article went on to describe what happens when the beat-to-beat changes in the heart rhythm, referred to as Heart Rate Variability (HRV) start to smooth out, indicating a state of “coherence.” When the brain waves begin to get “in sync” or “entrained” with the HRV, cortisol levels (stress hormones) in the body drop, and the “good” hormones start flooding in. This is referred to as a state of coherence. While in this state, subtle awareness expands. This state of coherence is what many people refer to as a “peak performance” state.

Rollin McCraty, head of research at the HearMath Institute best describes the following terminology for coherence, resonance and entrainment.

“The term ‘coherence’ is used in physics to describe the ordered or constructive distribution of power within a waveform. An example of this is the Sine wave. Coherence also describes two or more waves that are either phase or frequency locked; such as when two or more of the body’s oscillatory systems such as respiration and heart rhythms become entrained and oscillate at the same frequency. This is called cross-coherence.

We have also demonstrated that physiological coherence is associated with increased synchronization between the heartbeat (ECG) and alpha rhythms in the EEG. We found that the brain’s alpha activity is naturally synchronized to the cardiac cycle. When subjects used a positive emotion refocusing technique to consciously self-generate feelings of appreciation, their heart rhythm coherence significantly increased, as did the ration of the alpha rhythm that was synchronized to the heart. (emphasis added)

Another related phenomenon associated with physiological coherence is resonance. In physics, resonance refers to a phenomenon whereby an unusually large vibration is produced in a system in response to a stimulus whose frequency is identical or nearly identical to the natural vibratory frequency of the system.  In summary, we use the term coherence as an umbrella term to describe a physiological mode that encompasses entrainment, resonance, and synchronization, all of which emerge from the harmonious activity and interactions of the body’s subsystems.”

A few years ago, after participating in an Adventures In Awareness – Equine Experiential Learning workshop with industry pioneer Barbara Rector and Lisa Walters. Dr. Ellen Gehrke, suggested a project together. Lisa came up with the idea of embarking on some research looking at the relationship between horses and humans. Lisa felt that the technology to measure the “energetic” relationship between horses and humans was now possible with advances in modern technology.  Lisa suggested Ellen look into what  the HeartMath Institute was doing, knowing they had the technology to measure energy fields. Ellen took the ball and ran with it and with initial funding provided by the EquuSatori Center in Sebastopol CA. the initial research began.

Rollin McCraty, head of research at HeartMath Institute, had been raised with horses and was very willing to investigate the horse-human relationship. With this, we set off to find evidence supporting what we felt was an uncanny bond between horses and humans. With the help of the HeartMath researchers, intitial experiments were designed with Dr. Gehrke conducting the actual research. The HeartMath team interpreted the data that was collected. Later, the research efforts were augmented by the contributions of Dr. Ann Baldwin of the University of Arizona, who performed another series of experiments with Dr. Gehrke and then developed methods of critically analyzing the data to provide quantitative results that later revealed key findings.

Ellen and the HeartMath team used HRV as the tool to measure coherence in both the horses and humans. Initially, they needed to determine what coherence looked like in horses. This would serve as a baseline to compare other data to. After months of gathering data on 11 different horses (for 24 hour periods, while in their herds) the data revealed that the frequency ranges of HRV oscillations in horses are very similar to those in humans.

In the initial phase of the research, Dr. Gerhke and the HeartMath group discovered that horses often show regular heart rhythm pulsations about once or twice a minute. These pulsations look uncannily similar to the 0.1 Hz pulsations seen in the human heart rhythm that indicate coherence, and Dr. Gehrke and the HeartMath group assumed that these pulsations indicated coherence in the horses. If this assumption were true, the data would suggest that that the horses almost always stay in a state of coherence and that when horses move out of coherence, they are quick to move back into it. However, Dr. Baldwin noticed that the frequency of the ‘coherence’ pulsations in horses (0.03 Hz) is much lower than their breathing frequency at rest which is about 0.15 Hz or 9 breaths/min. When humans are in a coherent state, their dominant heart rhythm frequency exactly matches their breathing frequency (0.1 Hz or 6 pulses/min). So, right now, although it is tempting to associate the slow pulsations in the heart rhythm of horses with coherence, it is puzzling that these pulsations are not synchronized with normal breathing as they are in humans.This slow (0.03Hz) ‘coherent’ rhythm has been noted previously in horses (Kuwahara et al, 1996) but its origin is not clear and it disappears with exercise (Marr CM. Cardiology of the Horse, p161).

In the experiments where Dr. Gerhke put pairs of horses together and then took one away, it became obvious that horses are sentient beings. As we suspected, they have very strong bonds. The HRV recordings indicated that both horses respond with a momentary increase in heart rate when separated or when brought back together. In cases where one horse shows the slow ‘coherent’ heart rhythm, the regular rhythm disappears as soon as the horse runs, just as noted by Marr

The data indicated the possibility of entrainment between the familiar, friendly pairs of horses and it also indicated stress and the appearance of incoherence when these pairs were separated. Horses clearly have preferences. All these qualities indicate sentience.

In the experiments where horses were paired with people (both familiar and unfamiliar), there were some very interesting observations. The data revealed measurable “energy field responses” in the horses when the humans moved toward more coherence.  In the experiments conducted at the EquuSatori Center in Sebastopol CA., each time the person in the arena with a loose horse began sending thoughts and feelings of appreciation to the horse, the horse looked directly at that person. This happened even when the horse was 20 or more feet away.

It appeared that horses can sense appreciation and they seem to resonate with that human emotion. According to HeartMath, the feeling of appreciation in humans is actually associated with a state of coherence (see chart above). While it is nice to think that horses are resonating with the feeling of appreciation, it is more likely that they are resonating with the coherence that the feeling of appreciation generates in the human. Heart Rate Variability recordings obtained from paired horses and humans, obtained by Dr. Gehrke, seemed to indicate in a few cases that there was more entrainment between the horse and the human when the human became more coherent. However, this interpretation was purely subjective. For that reason Dr. Baldwin analyzed the raw inter-beat interval data obtained from previous experiments by Dr. Gehrke, and from the experiments Drs Baldwin and Gehrke performed together to determine whether any of the major frequencies of oscillation in the heart rhythm of a given human matched those of the interacting horse. There were often common oscillation frequencies shared by the horse and human in a given pair, particularly when the human showed the 0.1 Hz coherent frequency. An example is shown in Diagram 2. Note the 0.13 Hz coherent frequency in the human that also appears in the horse, and also the 0.01 and 0.06 Hz frequencies from the horse that appear in the human frequency spectrum. Normally, when a human is coherent, these low frequencies do not appear in their HRV frequency spectrum. One hypothesis is that when a human is coherent, they are especially able to act as an antenna and receive heart field information from the horse.

Power Spectral Density Frequency

Spectra for Horse (top) and Human

(bottom)

Dr. Baldwin also performed cross correlation analysis on the horse and human heart rate recordings to accurately determine the degree of synchronicity between the recordings, instead of just relying on subjectivity. The results showed that there was sometimes a much higher degree of correlation between horse-human heart rate rhythms than would be predicted by chance and it was not always necessary for the human to be in a coherent state. In addition, rather than the human imposing their rhythm on the horse, the cross correlation analysis showed that in almost all cases, the horse was imposing their very low frequency rhythms on the human. An example is shown in Diagram 3.

Diagram 3 HRV versus time for horse (pink) and human (blue)
Cross Correlation of the HRV Plots Shown Above

The degree of correlation can vary from zero (no synchronicity) to one (perfect synchronicity). When rhythms from horses and humans who had never seen each other were compared the cross correlation coefficient was never greater than 0.1. The correlation between two rhythms can be calculated in real time, or when one recording is shifted backwards or forwards in time relative to the other recording. For example, in Diagram 3, the greatest correlation (0.35) is seen when the human rhythm lags behind the horse rhythm by -30 s (a negative value means that the horse rhythm leads the human rhythm). Interestingly, the horse rhythm led the human rhythm in most cases.

Based on this research to date, we can likely conclude that the horses’ coherent state is influencing the humans, more than the other way around.

For humans, being in a state of coherence is one of the keys to expanding awareness, which can lead to gaining new perspective, as well as personal growth.  Since the research indicates that the horse is influencing the human’s state more than the human is influencing the horse, we suspect that this is one of the ways horses help people. It appears they help resonate/tune us back to more coherence.

Separate from the research done by Dr. Gerhke,  Lisa Walters conducted, along with James Ripely (a brainwave biofeedback specialist) a related inquiry at EquuSatori Center. We observed brainwaves while participants interacted with horses in various activities.  Our informal investigation with brainwave measurements indicated findings similar to Drs. Gerhke and Baldwin. In our limited exploration, it appeared that the horse, when measured, stayed mostly in higher amplitudes of Delta, Theta, and Alpha frequencies, generally regarded in human terms as a more “right brain” and less linear.

Our human subjects all initially stayed in primarily Beta frequencies, which are associated with more “thinking” or traditional “left brain” activities and usually correspond with less coherence. All of the human participants shifted to more Alpha frequencies after meditation or breathing exercises. Alpha frequencies usually correspond with more coherence. While interacting in a companion walking excersise, the participants stayed predominantly in Beta. However while still companion walking with the horse, we repeatedly saw a significant spike in Theta frequencies after which the participant reported feeling more connected to the horse. Interesting to note, Theta frequencies correspond to a higher degree of coherence and feelings. Perhaps, as Dr. Baldwin hypothesizes, during periods of more coherence, we become more of an antennae and are more easily influenced by the horse’s state. During the activity known as companion walking with the horse, people often report feelings of being very connected to the horse.

We could not tell who was influencing whom with our equipment. Based on the research that Dr’s Baldwin and Gerhke conducted, we suspect the person was tuning into the horse’s frequency for a brief moment and the subsequent feeling of connection would follow.  After various experimentations with the brainwave equipment, we concluded that brainwaves measured on the portable equipment were not as efficient a measure of coherence as the HRV tool. The horse’s head has many muscles and reading data through all the “noise” associated with movement of the horse’s ears and such was difficult. In addition, brainwaves change extremely fast. The HRV seems to be a more steady measurement tool.

Often we hear people in the field of Equine Facilitated Learning say that “horses mirror the person they are with.” Indeed, those of us that work with people and horses will see the same horse respond differently to each person they interact with. After looking at the results of the this research, I suspect that horses are perceiving, interpreting and responding to very subtle energy fields that they come into contact with. It would make sense that if the collective feeling they perceive is calm, they will respond calmly. If the collective feeling is fear, they may feel/sense fear and start behaving fearfully.

As a herd and prey animal, a horse’s safety depends on its ability to relate to and move in harmony with the herd. Horses don’t have the verbal skills nor the time to describe a potential danger to their herd-mates before they all run. To perceive, interpret and respond to an energy field seems a much more efficient way of communicating. The budding scientific research directed to this field of inquiry is sure to lead to some interesting answers and even more interesting questions to come.

Reference

Kuwuhara M., Hashimoto S, Ishii K, Yagi Y, Hada T, Hiraga A et al. Assessment of autonomic function by power spectral analysis of heart rate variability in the horse. J. Auton. Nerv. Syst. 1996; 60: 43-8.