Saturday, May 14, 2016

Help Me to Heal: Mind, Body, and Horse

Horses enjoy our presence most when we are in the "Here and Now"
photo by Thierry Fulconis

At the age of 15, I believed I was going to die. After recently learning about breast cancer and how to conduct a self-exam at-home, I thought that I’d give it a try.  It was a strange sensation to discover a lump that wasn’t there some months before. From what I had learned, women could develop fatty tumors, but when the lump didn’t seem to move around freely, I knew that something was wrong.

At the doctor’s office, it took about 15 minutes before she took my father aside and told him that I needed to be scheduled for immediate surgery. There was no discussion of conducting an x-ray, ultrasound, or even biopsy, just surgery. The chances of the tumor being cancerous were pretty high as the disease runs in my family. And even though they told me not to worry, and that everything would be ok, the look on my dad’s face that day told me everything they were afraid to say and all that I needed to know.

The surgery was schedule for roughly two weeks later, and every day up until then, I cried. Each night I would tell my dad that I loved him, and made him promise to take care of our Alaskan Malamute, Sasha, and not to feed her too many turkey legs. I told him of all the things I wouldn’t live to see and do, as well as my list of regrets. Together we would say the Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23, and he would sing to me until I feel asleep.  My dad would wait awhile by my bedside, and after leaving my room and heading to his own, he would often feel defeated.

I am now 29 years old, and living a strong and healthy life. The tumor had been benign, but from the day we found out, our lifestyle changed. All of the foods with hormones were immediately thrown out, and were replaced by organic. Any later medications that I consumed would have to be entirely without or with the lowest possible levels of estrogen. These were just the tangible effects of my ordeal, but the psychological ones that I wasn’t immediately aware of would have a far longer lasting impression.

Up until that time I had been an avid soccer player and a member of a private club team in Westchester. But after the surgery I begin to lose interest. I would make up excuses as to why I didn’t want to go, and eventually I gave up and quit. Out of genuine concern, my dad took me to see a psychologist, a practice that I would unknowingly continue over the next 10 years. Initially it felt odd to sit and talk to a stranger about my feelings and deepest fears, but over time I realized that it was comforting to have a non-family member listen to me, unbiased and nonjudgmental, and try to help me confront my suppressed anxieties that were manifesting in different ways and undoubtedly affecting the quality of my life. Looking back on it now, during those sessions I was always holding onto something, like a pen or a pillow, and doing so gave me the sense of not being entirely exposed. And each time after those sessions ended, when I came home, just being with my dog or cat would reassuringly give me a sense of unrequited peace.  If I had known then that there were ways to incorporate animals into my counseling sessions, I know I would have tried it, but it was only recently that I discovered Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning (EFEL).

Inspired by the teachings of Linda Kohanov and after having come to a cross-road in her life, Ines Kaiser took out a map and randomly picked Luxembourg as the next place to move to in hopes of starting her own business. Ines had tried EFEL after experiencing some difficulties in her life, and understanding the benefits, wanted to offer the same opportunity to others in search of finding themselves and something more out of life.
Relaxing together in the pasture (photo by Thierry Fulconis)
Initially EFEL began with the idea of connecting humans and horses in different ways. For centuries humans have had a dependent relationship with horses and over time that relationship has frequently been one sided. Horses were used as a means for transportation, during war, exploration, survival of everyday life, and humans rarely asked what was the desire and needs of the horse. Horses were critical to human survival and evolution, and the thought to ask the horse if they were willing to assist was never taken into consideration, and instead often times they were brutally forced to oblige. In the later years horses were used by the super-rich for prestige and sport, which greatly served the interest of their owners but more times than not, neglected the interests of the horse. In recent decades, more ethical training methods and horsemanship have developed, but the idea remained that the human taught the horse and not the other way around. However, nowadays, we have arrived at an era where this way of thinking deserves to be questioned, and the intelligence of horses should be deeply considered.
Horses are prey animals that live in herds and love being in the pasture
photo by Thierry Fulconis
Ines began establishing her clientele in 2012, but launched her business,, full time in 2013. She has six horses – Mylie (21 yrs.), Sue (8 yrs.), Grace (7 yrs.), Centu (6 yrs.), Sky (4 yrs.), Bella (3 yrs.) – five of whom she trains with. The clients who come to her are battling with a range of issues such as burnout, depression, anorexia, anger, fear, mid-life crisis, lifestyle transition, calamitous relationships, divorce, in-between jobs, death of family members, and illness. And whatever the case may be they are looking for a change as their current state no longer feels sustainable and is leading them down a path of unhappiness. In all cases, Ines’s clients have managed to suppress their emotions which have resulted from these life altering events, and have come to her to try and rebuild the contact to themselves. And by the time they call to schedule a session, they have already read the information on her website.
“I Invite them to the stables and introduce my approach. I make them experience. When you learn from experience, you remember it differently than something you heard or talked about. When the experience happens on all these nonverbal levels – body, emotion, mind, energy, and soul -- you can feel it.”
Ines’s work involves the horse to teach people how to find themselves and reconnect.
“You cannot develop personally if you can’t feel yourself or perceive what is going on within you. Through the work that I am doing, the question I like to ask is, “What do the horses have to teach us?” Any interaction that we have with them they are teaching us something. I don’t know if they have a direct intention to do so, it could vary from horse to horse, but they communicate very clearly that which we have unlearned.”
As Ines perceives it, in today’s world the modern human mind is too focused on logical thinking. As a result people have lost contact with their emotions and no longer “feel their bodies”. Ines explained that horses are prey animals, and it is in their nature to pick up even the slightest change in their environment. They can feel your heart rate, whether you have high blood pressure, your suppressed emotions, how well you are grounded, and if you are present in the here and now or not. They can feel if you are congruent with your heart.
A moment of affection between this woman and horse, Bella
photo by Thierry Fulconis
The Institute of Heart Math has conducted research in the field of heart intelligence. They have been able to determine that there is scientific evidence proving that humans have the same cells in our heart that are also in our brain, and that when we make decisions based on our heart or our gut feelings, that this is more than just a metaphor.

For people who have a strong mental focus it is important to have them try and connect with their body. The body talks to us through these sensations, and as prey animals, horses are able to perceive all of these things and mirror them back to us through their behavior. In order to identify and acknowledge these sensations, one of the first exercises that Ines does with her clients is called a Body Scan. As she explains:
“A Body Scan is a small exercise where you focus your attention inward. You go through all of your body parts and look for any sensations that may stand out. That could be pressure, churning in stomach, tension, posture, a realization that your shoulders are hunched. All of these simple sensations carry information. I ask them 'Which is the sensation that intrigues you the most?', and they always unconsciously choose the right one.”
Ines explained that an example of this is when a person is standing and looking at the horse and says “I have a nervous feeling in my stomach”. They are to allow this feeling to be and spend a moment observing it. When this is happening, Ines is standing with them and encouraging them. Then she asks them what the message behind this sensation could be and they reply, “I’m afraid because I’ve never been close to a big animal, I’m afraid of being run over by the horse, and I’m afraid the horse will step on my feet”.

Ines undertook a 4 year training in Body Orientated Psychotherapy in Switzerland at the Core Energetics Institute and a 1 year EponaQuest training program in the USA designed by Linda Kohanov in order to be able to properly interpret and understand her client’s projected sensations and realizations. When the client expressed her fear that the horse would step on her feet, this manifested into the realization that the client was afraid of upsetting her family and colleagues, and as a result was over eager to please everyone. She had been unable to communicate her own needs and boundaries to those around her which had resulted in suppressing her emotions and facing years of self-conflict and turmoil.

Ines said that during the first visit she asks her clients a series of questions: Why are you here? What do you want to achieve? What is bothering you in your life? What do you want to get out of these sessions? She continued:
“It is very important that they verbalize their desires because that is how I make my orientation.  This is mostly something inside them, and something that helps them connect to their potential and their power. People strive to find out what they want in life and what will lead them there. When we encounter difficult situations we typically want them to go away and resolve themselves, but those are the greatest gifts to help us find out more deeply who we really are.”
Mostly Ines works with adults, however she also works with children using a slightly different approach. For example, some of the children she sees are introverted and lack self-confidence. In these situations, she designs activities that they can do to work on improving these tendencies, activities where they can make decisions and take action. She lets the children decide what obstacles they want to go through with the horse and what they want the horse to do for them.
“I work to train their assertiveness, and this can be done on or off the horse. In order for them to motivate the horse to do something with them or for them, they have to bring the right energy level to achieve this”.
Some kids pick up on the idea fairly quickly and respond positively to the training almost immediately. For example, she has had cases where kids demonstrate their assertiveness by creating their own fantasy journey as their activity for the session. Ines added:
“We go on a fantasy journey. The horses become unicorns, while I and my partner play the fairies. We encounter obstacles such as how to get by the crocodiles, or past the quicksand. Sometimes we come to a river without a bridge and have to figure out what to do and how to get across. This brings out their creativity.”
Learning and having fun! (photo by Thierry Fulconis)
Other cases are not as straightforward, she explained, and require another approach:
“I went with one girl for a walk in the woods with the horses and I asked her, 'What do you want from life if you could have anything you wanted?'. It took her a while to start talking, but when she did there were a lot of things coming out that were very useful for her to know eluding to some of the challenges she was facing.”
In all of Ines’s cases with children, the parents were very open. If her therapeutic approach didn’t fit, they noticed it in the first meeting. Right from the beginning, Ines makes it very clear to the parents how she works.
“This therapeutic setting cannot be a situation where 'there is something wrong with my child and I need to fix it'. Most children who come for Equitherapy benefit greatly from it. I rely totally on the fact that I can give them an experience. They may not always be able to use this in their lives right now but it may have an influence that is immeasurable.”
This little boy is exploring different positions on the horse's back
photo by Thierry Fulconis

But what affect does all of this have on the horse? People are seemingly improving as a result of their interaction with the animal, but taking into consideration the true essence of EFEL, how does the horse feel about interacting with the people?

Ines explained that horses can handle emotions well, particularly negative emotions as long as we are willing to show them. By admitting to ourselves and to the horse that we are afraid, the horse is more likely to relax. If we suppress our fears, and then try to mount the horse without feeling comfortable, the horse doesn’t know what is going on, the situation doesn’t feel right to them, and they start reacting, mirroring our emotions. For instance, they get uncomfortable, start to move around, become fearful and stressed. Some may start to panic, some just ignore you and turn and walk away, or maybe they become aggressive which is demonstrated when they pin back their ears and swish their tail. These are all clear signs that they don’t want the person too near. Ines added:
“Horses like to be congruent, and want us to admit to ourselves what is going on inside of us. Some people will tell you, 'don’t show your fear to the horse', but they don’t realize that the horse already senses what we are feeling long before we do.
"Many people approach the horse thinking 'I want the horse to love me'. Animals think so differently because they simply love. They do not have this type of conditioning. If the person doesn’t realize that this is a pattern and start to open up to a certain extent, then this can be very frustrating for the horse. It is OK for the person to want the horse to love them. They are projecting their inner conflict onto the horse at that moment and we just want to make this conscious and explore where this need of 'wanting to be loved' comes from.
If we let go of our expectations, we experience blissful moments with horses
photo by Thierry Fulconis

Ines says that it is not the severity of the trauma, but more how the person deals with it. If the person has made their peace with their issues, can express their feelings and self-reflect, then the horses are quite happy to be around them versus a person that is stuck in their ways and remains stuck. Horses communicate strongly through non-verbal channels -- body, energy, emotions – and this communication happens in a very subtle way. It is so subtle that for us humans we have to be taught how to observe.

Many people come to Ines because they've heard about Equine Assisted Therapy, are drawn to horses, feel more comfortable being outside, and want to try this less common approach. Ines shys away from using the word “treated” as it implies that something needs to be fixed or go away. Her approach is not to solve the problem -- the old paradigm or our modern world – but to teach others that there is nothing wrong, only an organism saying to us that an issue needs to be brought to our attention. Humans have many beliefs that are created through social conditioning. We carry a lot of emotional baggage and suppressed emotions, which in turn impacts the horse, and can be quite a lot for them emotionally. The therapist continued:
“Some of the horses can carry your burden with them, other horses are eager to help. If the horse cannot help, they can feel bad. If we spend time in their energy field they have a regulating effect on us, for example, people who have had a bad day at the office and went to see their horse, and afterwards feel so relaxed.”
Relaxation exercise on the horse (photo by Thierry Fulconis)

Since 2014, Ines has been co-leading the Equi Motion Institute in Luxembourg, a continuing training program for professions who want to involve horses in their teaching and become trained equitherapists. These are people who hold a degree in social work, pedagogy, psychology or are medical professionals, and already have extensive experience with horses. As a fundamental key to the program’s success, Ines believes that you can only create a safe environment if you really know the horse species.

In addition to equitherapist training, Ines provides therapy for horses who encounter behavior problems such as rearing up, biting, kicking, bolting, or difficulties with trailer loading, just to name a few. Ines evaluates the horse to see what they are doing and under which circumstances. She then strives to renegotiate these behaviors, works to rebuild or build the trust and set boundaries. She also observes the owner to see what the relationship between them and their horse is like. She asks what the owners’ expectations are, and then delves into whether or not those expectations are justified and realistic. Her main focus is what the horse wants and how they feel.
“All behavioral issues or trauma that the horse has was created by humans. There is a lot of work required with the human. The animal put us into a position where we need to grow into more conscience beings. You cannot approach an animal with pure human logic.”
Ines with her horses, Sky and Bella; the next generation of 4-legged helpers
photo by Thierry Fulconis

Some of Ines’s clients have been with her since 2012. Some come on a regular basis for a long period of time, others for 6 months every other week, and some give her a call from time to time. She said she leaves the level of frequency entirely up to them and does not try to influence them:
“Every person needs to have a high motivation to work on their personal issues and when they come for a session it’s because that’s what they want, not what I suggested.

“Every encounter has its own purpose, and who am I to judge, or say something about a person. I can only be there to accompany them in whatever they are experiencing.”
After a session Ines emotions vary. She reflects quite a lot, considers the outcome, and replays the events and conversations, the decisions that were made and her input.
“In general I feel very satisfied and enormously grateful to the horses because they often bring things to the surface that I couldn’t have and never would have thought of.”
Ines and her horse, Sky, spending a quiet moment enjoying the sunset
photo by Thierry Fulconis

Ines’s work has changed her life entirely. The way she relates to humans and animals has forever changed, and the horses have become her biggest source of inspiration. Last year Ines invited Anna Evans to do a seminar with her. Anna founded the approach “Communication Intuitive” and has the unique ability to non-verbally communicate with horses. Anna had the chance to communicate with Ines’s horse, Grace, and told Ines that this is what Grace said,
“When I work with Ines, I, Grace, am the professional and Ines is the assistant. And this interaction between myself and humans, this is how I express love.”
Ines and her horse, Mylie, and dog, Maui, doing liberty work
photo by Thierry Fulconis

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