Balancing body, mind and soul – Introduction to the world of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) – Eva Balzer

In traditional Chinese medicine the Five Elements theory is used to interpret the relationship between the physiology and pathology of the body and the natural environment.

The Five Elements theory organizes all natural phenomena into five master groups, or patterns in nature. Each of the five groups: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water, includes categories such as a season, a direction, climate, stage of growth and development, internal organ, body tissue, emotion, aspect of the soul, taste, color, sound etc.

The Five Elements theory reflect a deep understanding of natural law, the Universal order underlying all things in our world. These elements are in constant movement and change. Moreover, the complex connections between material objects are explained through the relationship of interdependence and mutual restraint that governs the five elements.

If The Five Elements are balanced in an individual, we call it a healthy system – if they are not balanced something appears that we call a disease in our western system. As a therapist – this is where you step in and try to balance the system, meaning the animal or the human patient.

This presentation will discuss The Five Elements and different uses of it, applied to equine assisted therapy and how it can be used to enhance equine welfare and well-being.


Equine welfare and wellbeing – and the role of the equine specialist in EAA – Katarina Felicia Lundgren

How can we, in Equine Assisted Activities, change our focus from avoiding and treating symptoms of negative equine welfare? To take preventive measures, to promote and ensure equine physical, mental and social health? To see how EAA can contribute to positive equine welfare?

One way is to look at the role of the Equine Specialist, what kind of knowledge the ES needs and brings into EAA teamwork, how this knowledge improves the quality of life for equines, as well as the quality of services in EAA.

What is a study curriculum for an ES to include? I suggest more and deepened knowledge about equine cognition and behavior (e.g. emotions, learning, communication, play, relating/bonding/attaching, problem solving, stress reactions). But also knowledge about equine-human interaction, how to improve observational skills, how to see (and understand) the equine's perspective in sessions of EAA, as well as outside sessions.

Another way is to look at the ethics of letting equines work with clients. How does it impact them? What problems do we see? How do we formulate our ethics? In our teams? In the field of EAA?

An equine is an equine, but also an individual, a subject, have a personality, is an agent, with a unique life history and experiences. This means not all equines are the same. How do we consider the individual equine in equine welfare and wellbeing? When we formulate our ethics?

In discussing these and other related questions we will see that knowledge about equines and equine-human interaction is as important in EAA as knowledge about humans. It will clarify the role and function of the ES in the team, as well as his/her responsibilities.


Through the Eyes of the Horse... Are You Listening? – Marlene du Plessis

This presentation will draw from various equine assisted therapeutic intervention sessions in an endeavour to illustrate the often subtle, yet powerful contributions our equine partners make during sessions.

Being in the presence of horses during a session, deep-seated memories are often triggered, which can be understood as almost primal and which is vital to our human soul. It seems that horses are masters in setting the stage for the interplay between the client’s raw experiences of reality, which places them in a space that is often so terrifying that that will do most anything to hide it from their own awareness (unconscious), and the their ability to express the pain and horror in audible language (conscious). It is in this process between the conscious and unconscious that the therapy team need to become a sensitive conduit, noticing the unconscious or inner messages that could belong to the client as the horse(s) link the client’s unconscious script with the conscious and visual story experienced in the present moment. It is this process that one finds it difficult not to be astonished by the powerful way horses guide and facilitate the journey of self-discovery and healing.


Hidden in Plain Sight – Michelle Whitham Jones

There is a wealth of research claiming the ‘benefits’ of Equid Assisted Interactions (EAI’s), but these are often anthropocentric and describe ‘improvement’ to the human’s disability as the measurable benefit. This study concentrates on the dyadic relationship between pre or nonverbal autistic children and their donkey partners during interaction sessions.

Prior to clarifying potential ‘benefits’ of EAI, I propose that it is essential to first measure the quality of engagement between heterospecific participants. This provides contextual evidence about the nature of each individual’s behavioural responses relative to the other. Knowing the quality of engagement between participants, creates an opportunity to disentangle variables and interpret the potentially confounding causality of perceived benefits.

By designing and utilising a unique Quality of Engagement Tool (QET) to measure engagement of both donkeys and children, I was able to capture the emerging relationship between human and equid participants. I observed how heterogeneity of character and personal preference, irrespective of species, affected levels of engagement. The tool identified differences in engagement seeking or avoiding that varied, with different partners. The QET was designed to avoid the possibility that one member of the dyad would gain a larger share of observer’s attention, rendering the other partners’ subtle behaviours unintentionally missed by casual observation. This observational bias, possibly quite common in other EAI sessions, meant that concern signals could be unintentionally, hidden in plain sight. Donkeys are generally more stoic than horses and may only display subtle behaviour changes when in pain or fearful (cf. Hart 2008:78). My findings showed that QET enabled subtle nuances to be detected in real-time and decisions made about the suitability, well-being and consent of either participant.


Choice – Leanne Nieforth

Choice. We all know the word. We all think we know what it means, but do we actually understand the weight it carries in maintaining the welfare and well-being of our horses and clients? By combining research with her personal experiences, Leanne will present a framework for incorporating “choice” into our EAP & EAL practices. This framework suggests that providing broad choices for the horse in EAP session is an essential component in maintaining his overall well-being. This freedom to choose reduces stress and confusion allowing him to freely interact with the client. For horses who have had few choices in their dealings with humans, the opportunity to explore the act of choosing is the path to balance and healing. Maintaining an environment of freedom to choose, for both the horse and the client fosters thriving, natural relationship building that directly correlates to both the client’s interactions in daily life and the horses’ interactions in their herd.


Horses as the Master Trainers for Developing Somatic Intelligence and Embodying Leadership – Lissa Pohl

One intention behind Equine Assisted Learning is to give humans an experience that allows them to better understand how to leverage sensory information from stimuli in the environment, our somatic intelligence, and to act on it in the present moment, much like a horse. In a leadership context, working with horses can enlighten us about organizational system pressure, communication breakdowns, and inauthentic intentions, because the horses directly reflect the moment in which they show up. On the other hand, and just as plainly, congruency of thought, feeling and action, a clear vision and intention, patience and connection are also mirrored back to the two legged participants by the four legged teachers.

When facilitating Equine Assisted Activities, in both therapeutic and learning applications, there is a risk of treating or viewing the horse as a tool in the process of learning, as a convenient and effective ‘means to an end’, i.e. a human’s learning. This perspective can lead to a somatic disconnect and result in the unconscious disregard for both their emotional and physical safety and wellbeing. Therefore, as practitioners we need to utilize the notion of conscientia or “knowing with” - understanding that it is through relationship with others and one’s environment that we come to know ourselves and evolve (de Quincey, 1998). This presentation will speak to the importance of incorporating a somatic learning perspective when designing equine assisted activities and what can happen when you don’t.