Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning

Posted on July 10, 2012

Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning


Expanding Human Awareness and Potential

Through “The Way of the Horse.”

by Lisa Walters


In “the way of the horse,” relationship and social structure are the foundation upon which bonds and safety in the herd are created. Horses live and model the power of community and cooperation. By engaging with them in their way, we awaken dormant skills within ourselves. Horses are by nature “hard-wired” to relate. The horse is a master at reading subtlety and tends to respond “in kind” to what he/she feels within the “field of awareness.” This aspect of their nature is one of the many reasons horses have become revered as excellent teachers in self-discovery and leadership.

The Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning (EFEL) programs that we offer at the EquuSatori Center are defined by the role the horse plays in the learning process. In EFEL, the horse is considered a colleague and “the way of the horse” (behaviors inherent in the horse’s nature), is the foundation for horse-human interactions. The horse is acknowledged as a sentient being and treated as such.

As we learn more about horses and how these magnificent sentient beings have supported the progress and empowerment of man over the millennia, we can no longer consider them as “tools,” existing solely for entertainment and sport. Thanks to EFEL, the general public no longer needs to own a horse or even learn to ride a horse in order to enjoy the self-empowering benefits of being in their presence.


Awareness, Presence and Intention

Getting started….

By engaging in relationship with horses in “the way of the horse,” we are gently guided into noticing more subtlety. We begin to listen with awareness. This naturally engages more of our own innate subtle senses. In our fast paced, high-tech lives, many people have allowed their subtle sense perception to go dormant. Many have lost touch with the subtle aspects of human nature. For the most part, our recent western culture places our focus on our own individuality – me, myself and I. Horses show us how to shift our awareness to include ourselves and include a larger field of awareness. They show us how to connect with each other, to build trusting connection and effective, respectful communication. By working with the horses in this way, we rediscover the value our subtle senses have in our lives and relationships.

In the process of awakening our subtle awareness, we automatically become more present. From this place of presence, while listening with awareness, our physiology settles and our awareness expands. When this happens, we actually shift into what science describes as a “peak performance” state. We now know that when we settle into this “zone,” we have a broader perspective about what is happening inside and outside ourselves. Internally, our brainwaves actually come into phase with our heart. Our stress hormone levels decrease and our “feel good” hormones increase. We feel clear, calm, connected and aware. With this presence, we become more grounded and integrated. This is what the scientific community calls “coherence.” Outwardly, this coherence is what a horse senses as the core quality of a potential leader.

Expanding awareness and becoming present are rewarding states of being. However, the real self-empowering realization comes when we experience the effect that heart-based intention has in our relationships and lives. This is where horses shine as teachers. The horse is always looking for a leader and the horse identifies a leader not only by how he/she behaves physically but also how that potential leader shows up mentally, emotionally and energetically. All aspects of ourselves need to be in alignment (congruent) in order to create trustworthy, authentic communication. To a horse, a leader embodies all of these elements, as well as clear intention. Because horses are naturally designed not only to find a leader (by sensing leadership qualities), but to follow a leader (recognized by the expression of coherence, coupled with clear intention), they provide the opportunity for us to hone leadership and relational skills through the practiced expression of these traits. If we do not embody true leadership qualities, the horse will not identify us as the leader it is looking for.

Coming together with horses gives us a unique opportunity to experience the dynamic dance of relationship. With them, we have the opportunity to see how our intentions, beliefs and behaviors influence our perceptions and our relationships. In addition, we see how counter-productive it is to resist or push against the things we don’t want in our lives.  What we soon see is that what we align with will eventually manifest. Tension begets tension. Fear begets fear. Relaxation and clarity result in more relaxation and clarity, and so on.

When thoughtfully interacting with horses, it becomes clear that the “power-over” model of leadership doesn’t make the horse want to be with us. Leadership involves mutual respect, humility, trust and authenticity. We also see that trying to control doesn’t create a true, trustworthy connection in a relationship. However, if we accept and interact with what is presented to us, with mutual respect and humility, we can include our intention and in so doing, shape relationships that are co-operative and connected. Being rooted in our heart-based intention helps us determine the path of right action in virtually all situations.

Once we catch-on to how this works, our relatedness to anything specific (horses, humans, our work or families) becomes a mirror for how we are doing in “relationship” generally. Awareness, presence, and intention become powerfully coordinated influences in the energetic field that we share with others. Being in the presence of horses and mindfully interacting with them helps us awaken our own ability to become more aware of what’s going on in the physical and energetic fields that surround us. We become less distracted with mind activity and begin finding more inner stillness. Our feeling sense comes to the fore. This is where we reconnect with our subtle sense perception and intention becomes most influential. This is “the Way of The Horse!”