May 12, 2022
Look down through the pedigree of racehorse royalty and you’ll find one thing in common: many of these horses weren’t just great—they were larger than life, and so were their hearts. Literally. Secretariat, Man o’ War, Phar Lap. They had the X-factor, or large heart gene, that physiologically made their hearts two to three times the size of their competitors’.
Did their “superhorse” hearts fuel their success? Probably. Did it give them an unfair advantage? Maybe. Are their tales still inspiring? No doubt. We eat up their rise-to-glory stories, and in a sense, they become everyone’s “heart horse” because they were just that good.
But is it only the size of a horse’s heart that predisposes them to be unforgettable, or is a powerful something else radiating from them? The truth is, a horse doesn’t have to be genetically built for greatness to be great. They’re simply born with it. Because possessing a heart with incredible ability is every horse’s superpower. Let’s explore what it really means to have a “heart horse”—one with a big, beautiful heart that’s synced with yours.
You’ve probably found yourself quoting, “There’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse,” to your non-horsey friends. But just what is it about a horse that’s so good for the soul? Why do we breathe a little deeper when we hit the barn door or start to relax when we hear a familiar nicker? And why in the world would we rather pull on mucking boots over the weekend and scoop manure for our best friends than hit the town with… other friends?
Good news! Your wires aren’t crossed and you’re not imagining the positive feelings that come from hanging out with your horse. But there’s more behind those good vibes than you may realize. It’s tied up in the heart, based in science—and is both fascinating and enlightening.
Horses are emotional, soulful animals. They intuitively read our emotions as well, and they’re masters at understanding body language. You and your horse speak a language all your own because much of it is heart-to-heart communication. Anyone who’s spent significant time with a horse and has half an intuitive heart of their own can give a nod to this. You may be nodding right now. Yes! That’s me and my horse.
A few others think it’s horse hooey. Because really, isn't a horse just another animal—wired to eat, work, sleep, repeat? Horses are amazing at pulling the heavy load and most have incredible work ethic. In fact, we think horses actually like having a job, and should have one—whatever humane gig that looks like. But they also have so much more to give if we tune in and let them teach. They can bond with us. Become our closest friends. Help us achieve dreams. And at their best—their very best—they mend what’s broken and heal our hearts.
Let’s meet some horses whose job—and whose superpower—is doing just that.
Jolene “Jo” Green can tell you firsthand about horses healing hearts—as will many others who have visited The Barn, her equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) center in Utah.
Jo is a licensed clinical social worker who has practiced for 45 years. She was introduced to horses at the age of 57 and found a passion she never knew she had.
“Horses changed my life,” she said. “I quickly realized they could be a powerful force for hope, growth and joy in my clients’ lives as well.”
Jo practices Eagala, one form of EAP which puts horses and people together to solve problems. The horses at The Barn help humans struggling with addiction, anxiety, depression, bullying, abuse. And this is one area where science has actually partly unraveled the mystery of the human-horse relationship and its incredible power.
All hearts have a magnetic field. According to a study by HeartMath Institute, a human heart puts out an energy field up to eight to ten feet, as measured by a magnetometer. A horse’s electromagnetic field, however, is stronger and five times larger, creating a sphere-shaped field that completely surrounds you and can directly influence your heart rhythm and emotions.
Here’s why: horses have extremely low-frequency heart electromagnetic waves. People? Not so much. These low-frequency heart waves in equines are directly related to health and wellbeing, and people who don’t have enough are more prone to inflammation, PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
But here’s the interesting thing: when we get around a horse that’s exhibiting a coherent heart pattern (which reflects a system that recovers and adjusts to stressful situations efficiently), magic happens. Within 30 seconds of touching a horse, his or her heart will take over our own and bring it to its level. Then those good vibes go to work.
Dr. Maria Katsamanis, coauthor of the book Alchemy of Lightness, explains:
“We only need to be in a horse’s presence to feel a sense of wellness and peace. In fact, research shows that people experience many physiological benefits while interacting with horses, including lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased levels of beta-endorphins (neurotransmitters that serve as pain suppressors), decreased stress levels, reduced feelings of anger, hostility, tension, and anxiety, improved social functioning; and increased feelings of empowerment, trust, patience, and self-efficacy.”
All of this research tells horse people what they already know: being with our horses makes us feel better. It works for us, and it works for patients in therapy. It’s been shown that just 12 sessions in EAP effects positive and lasting changes in people.
Stories of healing that come from The Barn are both heart-tugging and hopeful. Here are a couple inspiring examples Jo related to us:
“A returning soldier with severe PTSD came to The Barn after his wife called me saying if things didn’t change, she was taking their three small children and leaving. She said he was angry, hostile, impatient, and scaring their children.
He came to ten one-hour sessions. He never said a word. He just went to the horses, petted them, kneeled by them, stayed with them. In one of his sessions, he leaned over Tina, my Norwegian Fjord, and cried for an hour. Tina didn’t move. She occasionally reached back and touched him on the shoulder.
On his last session, he walked over and told me, ‘They reminded me to be human. They helped me find my heart again.’
He didn’t return, and when I called to check in with his wife, she said she had her sweet husband back.
Another man called to make an appointment for his 15-year-old daughter. He chose to stay for the session, sitting in a chair just inside the fence. Tina walked over to the man, put her nose on him and stood that way the entire hour of his daughter’s session.
At the end of the hour I asked him why the horse was with him. He said, ‘She’s comforting me. We’re here because my wife is an alcoholic. When she drinks, she abuses my daughter. The State told me if I don’t get my wife out of the house, they’ll put my daughter in foster care. I filed for divorce today and I’m brokenhearted.’
While Jo and her clients practice a formal therapeutic style of interaction with horses, if you have the privilege of being an equine partner, you’ve also likely discovered how therapeutic it can be. The way we individually interact with our horses is different—but it all works.
“There are many ways to be around a horse and experience that beneficial connection,” Jo said. “Sometimes I sit on an overturned bucket while they eat peacefully. Sometimes I play with my horses on the ground. Sometimes I ride or jump. And sometimes I muck out stalls or turn out, just so I can be with them (and ‘cuz it needs to be done).”
We all want to feel those positive vibes and know our horse is emotionally in sync with us. If you’re struggling to connect with your horse, Jo recommends finding a good trainer who cares about horses and views them as a partner, not an object. And you also need to work on becoming a good leader yourself.
“We work with horses the way they work with each other,” she said. “Horses are always looking for a leader, and they also want harmony. Strive for a 49/51 partnership—the human making up the 51%.”
Here are five core things you can work on to strengthen your leadership and relationship with your horse:
“Once a horse trusts what you’re doing and you show you can be the leader in the partnership—not the dominator, but the leader—” Jo said, “they’ll gladly give you their cooperation.”
And so much more. Horses will give their all for a fair and consistent person they have a strong relationship with. They’ll go another lap around the track. Round the barrel a little tighter. Push through another station on the endurance trail. Maybe fail. Try again. Then patiently stand still for a solid hour and let their human partner cry on their shoulder because sometimes life is just that hard. And some horses are that good.
“Our horses are a privilege and a gift,” Jo said. “They change our lives and our hearts. And if you are like me, you never get enough. Horses are good therapy.”
Our equine partners are all born with the heart of a superhorse. And they instinctively reach out to envelop and connect with ours in beautiful, healing ways. Let’s return the favor by offering our “heart horses” the very best of our own.
© Redmond Equine 2022. All rights reserved.
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