Equine Facilitated Wellness (EFW) is an experiential approach to counselling and psychotherapy, working with horses as co-therapists. In EFW, clients have the opportunity to experience a relationship with horses that is built on mutual respect, safety, congruence and clear communication by regulating emotions and recognizing emotional needs to achieve secure and healthy relationships. Highlands Gate offers individual and family counselling from a psychodynamic perspective as well as using mindfulness and focusing techniques which may be integrated into the experiential approach of Equine Facilitated Wellness. Riding is not involved, no experience with horses is necessary, and activities with the horses take place on the ground in a safe environment.
Highlands Gate Wellness
Horses have the natural instincts and ability to judge their environment, assess whether they should be curious and approach, or flee potential danger. They are experts at then, regulating their nervous system, decreasing their heart rate and calmly return to grazing. Horses can teach us valuable lessons about slowing things down so that we can learn to listen to our instincts and then choose how we want to respond. Part of the process of Equine Facilitated Wellness is getting in touch with your senses, emotions, connecting your mind to your body and to your heart to discover what you are experiencing, and honoring that experience whether it be fear, excitement, apprehension, self doubt or anticipation.
Safety is a main concern and time is taken for you to assess your comfort level in being with the horses. We meet and observe the herd from over the fence initially, to begin to learn how you can use your senses, like the horses do, to keep yourself in a safe and comfortable environment. Discovering a sense of where your personal boundaries are around the horses also assists the horses to find comfort. There is a myth about not letting a horse know that you are fearful. On the contrary, there have been studies that show when people's heart rate is elevated around horses, the horses actually lower their heart rate in response to the high energy they sense. They will often stand further away, quietly respecting boundaries until the people are able to recognize what they are experiencing and decide how they want to proceed, or they may approach and push your boundaries to make you more aware of them. People may choose to stand further away or closer, or practice some breathing and grounding techniques to assist them in recognizing and regulating their own nervous system to pause and sense in to what they need.
The process involves not only listening to your own gut feelings but also tuning in and observing the body language and behavior of the horses so that you can begin to build a respectful relationship with them The horses sense when people are congruent with what they are sensing in their bodies in relationship to the tape that is playing in their minds, over-riding their body sense, for example, "I shouldn't be afraid." "I just want to get close so I'll pretend I'm OK." "I'll show them who is boss, they don't scare me." If people can attempt to stay with whatever they are sensing and sit with it for awhile and be curious about the particular sense or emotion, the horses will demonstrate signs of relaxing like licking and chewing and releasing long heavy sighs in their appreciation of a more congruent environment that is easy for them to read. This may all seem hard to imagine or understand at this point until you experience it, so we ask that you come with an open and curious mind to see what lessons the horses have to teach you.