In the past few decades, the psychotherapeutic, personal growth and coaching market has been flooded with a variety of modalities that advertise the incorporation of animals, given the overwhelming evidence that they can assist in improving a person’s well being. Each of the approaches in this ever-evolving field has its own view about the role of equines and what they bring to the equation as herd and flight animals that respond differently to their environment than humans.
A horse is a horse, of course - right?
This statement is worth examining in more depth. In particular, what do we know about how they think, what they feel, how they perceive and interact with each other and with us? What impact do horse-human interactions and programs have on them? What do they need? Are we acting ethically with their best interests in mind?
In order to explore what horses really are and how prevailing views of them can either be supported or enhanced, a call went out into the international community of equine interaction professionals offering equine-assisted or facilitated therapy, learning, coaching, or other similar interventions. The call was answered by numerous individuals worldwide, hailing from Germany, the UK, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, the USA and Canada, with training in many of the most well known approaches, including EAGALA, EQUUSOMA Equine-Facilitated Trauma Therapy, Natural Lifemanship, Eponaquest Approach, HEAL, HorseDream, Learning Animals, Integrative Equine-Facilitated Wellness, TTouch, TAAC, and LEAP, among others.
Our Mission: To improve the safety, care and well-being of horses, donkeys and mules in equine interaction programs through science, compassionate inquiry, and interdisciplinary collaboration.
Our Team: The symposium was the creative vision of Ilka Parent of Minds-n-Motion in Germany. Early in the process of putting it together, she was joined by Felicia Katarina Lundgren (Sweden) and Sarah Schlote (Canada), who offered their time and support in coordinating and planning the event.
Our Goal: To raise funds for the Minds in Motion Education and Research Centre (MiMER), an organization with a trust set up to help fund research on equines, human-equine interactions, and equine-assisted interventions. For more information about MiMER, please visit: http://www.mimercentre.org The symposium is also intended to create a platform for the speakers to publish a compendium of papers about the topics they presented, to make the information more easily available, the proceeds of which will fund research or provide free equine-based therapy services to clients in need.
The topics will provide evidence for the importance of recognizing equines as sentient beings deserving of having choice and a voice, beyond strictly seeing them as tools that are secondary to the process. A range of contrasting, complementary and contradictory views will be presented, providing a snapshot of the diversity in the field.
- Day One will explore equines in depth, taking into consideration biological, cognitive, psychophysiological and behavioural traits and dynamics, drawing from the fields of cognitive science, trauma neuroscience and ethology. Perspectives drawn from TTouch and the Learning Animals models of mammalian sentience and interspecies interactions will also be provided.
- Day Two will explore the horses’ role in equine interaction programs - in particular, within Natural Lifemanship, the Eponaquest Approach, and HEAL - and will also include naturalistic observations of horse herds, an review of the research literature on the effect of horse-human interaction programs on equines, as well as a study about the impact of a specific type of horsemanship activities on therapy horses with and without a history of trauma.
- Day Three will include speakers presenting about the role of horses in the HorseDream method, as well as including equine-assisted therapy in an integrative model of practice. The symposium will conclude with a moderated speakers’ panel, where select questions from the audience, gathered within the three days of presentations, will be presented and discussed.
At the end of this three-day event, participants may leave with more questions than answers. However, they will also come away with more information, new ideas, expanded awareness and perceptions, leads for different approaches they may be interested in pursuing further training in, and hopefully a deeper and more nuanced appreciation for equines, their needs, and the depth of their contributions in therapy and learning programs.
Ilka Parent, Felicia Katarina Lundgren and Sarah Schlote
Symposium Planning Committee