The Horse as a Biological Being – Maja Tarka

The ancestor of our modern horse evolved around 3.5 million years ago, but its biology has not changed significantly since then. This means that the animal we have in our pastures and stables today is no different from the free roaming, steppe living grazer and herd mammal that existed in pre-historic times. Horses need to be able to move around a lot, eat grass and a diversity of other plants for nutrients and minerals, have access to water and shelter from insects and inclement weather, and live in a herd to stay physically and mentally healthy. A horse’s digestive system, skeleton, muscles and ligaments evolved to need lots of movement, especially at a walking pace, to develop properly. And a horse is reliant on its herd for learning, socializing, communication skills, protection, grooming, and rearing young. This presentation will provide an overview of equine evolution and species ecology as foundational knowledge to understanding what horses biologically need and how we can approximate this as closely as possible, to create an environment where they thrive in the fullest expression of their authentic selves.


 

Equine Cognition and Horse-Human Interactions: Expanding Our Knowledge of Horses to Improve EAP/L – Felicia Katarina Lundgren

Horses are like us in many ways. We both eat, sleep, defecate, reproduce, feed and take care of our young ones, care for our family and our friends, play, socialize, feel, learn and think. Since we share these and other life essentials life with horses, and through our empathy and our shared mammalian background, we can come to a pretty good understanding of what it to be a horse and what happens between horses and humans. But we also need to bear in mind the differences. Horses do not communicate with spoken words; manipulate their environment with hands; divide time into years, months, days, and hours; or use maps to get around. They have some species-specific senses that we do not have. So how do they perceive and interact with their world? How do they think, problem solve, and perceive and experience themselves and us? Likewise, how do we perceive and experience them? Even if they are a lot like us, they may not need the same things to thrive as we do. Furthermore, there are also individual differences between specific horses, each one having its own subjective view of the world based on its life experiences. What is true for one horse may not be true for another. Similarly, each group of horses forms differently under different circumstances, and has its own unique culture, making observations about specific herds or bands difficult to generalize to other ones. This presentation will provide an overview of the similarities and differences between equine and human cognition, perception and experiences in an effort to increase awareness and improve our ability to more effectively cater to their needs.


 

A Journey Beyond Anthropocentrism: An Ethical Consideration of the Horses’ Point of View – Susanne Weis

Many approaches and programs in the field of animal-assisted therapy rely on the horse to act as a metaphor, symbol or tool for resolving stress, trauma or other mental health issues. The use of horses in this context is often justified by arguing that they are “free to participate in the session” and/or that they “participate as an individual partner and part of the team.” While on a superficial level, such claims seem to consider the horses’ well-being, they are deeply rooted in an anthropocentric view of the world and our interactions with non-human animals. Stepping out of this anthropocentric paradigm opens the possibility for a true coexistence of humans and non-humans, where both have the possibility to express themselves and to explore the world and their relationships in a socio-cognitive way that is free from outdated training models, misleading labels and anthropocentric expectations. Sharing her personal journey, Susanne will emphasize how, in spite of our best intentions, erroneous human assumptions about horses frequently lead to misunderstandings in our interactions with them. Understanding that horses are social and sentient beings with their own feelings and thoughts makes it mandatory to give the horses the opportunity to actively participate in shared experiences with other horses and with humans, taking into account an ethical consideration of the horses’ point of view.


 

Integrating TTouch to Benefit Equine Performance and Well-Being – Nicola Mahon

The underlying ethos in the TTeam model, developed by Linda Tellington-Jones, is to support horses in holding their own balance, breaking down activities so that horses can make their own empowered decisions, acting instead of reacting. This approach was highly influenced by Feldenkrais, a bodywork modality designed to promote mental and physical well-being through conscious awareness of neuromuscular activity via nuanced, titrated exercises that improve flexibility, coordination and range of motion. In this presentation, Nicola will discuss the importance of becoming “horse detectives”, noticing small details and cues in the horse’s body, movements, and posture, in order to draw connections between horse physiology and behaviour. This degree of refined observational skills is helpful in predicting possible situations that might arise during a therapeutic session. Nicola will provide case examples of different horses and ponies showcasing the importance of using an integrative set of tools including the SWEAT the small stuff model, TTouch, groundwork, foot pads, and interactive games to support balance, choice, connection and confidence.


 

Applying a Trauma Lens to Equine Welfare – Sarah Schlote

This workshop will discuss the importance of extending a trauma lens to equine behaviour, by recognizing how stress impacts humans and equines in similar ways. Drawing on somatics, polyvagal theory, trauma psychophysiology, attachment, relational neurobiology, and affective neuroscience, this presentation will focus on two topics relevant to equine care and equine-facilitated interventions. 1) Sarah will discuss the role of stress response completion (fight / flight / freeze) in the onset of trauma, anxiety, aggression, and other mental and physical health problems in humans and domesticated animals, which provides a clue as to why animals in the wild rarely exhibit such issues in spite of regular exposure to threat (the different nervous system responses between horses, donkeys and mules will be considered). 2) An overview of the various coping, management or compensatory behaviours that result from unresolved stress, trauma or when mammals are thwarted in their instinctual drive to engage in natural behaviours will be provided (and the importance of understanding equine and human “vices” through a trauma lens). These two topics provide reasoning for why trauma-informed principles of safety, consent, choice, voice, trust and empowerment – typically applied to the humans in the equation – should equally be applied to equines as sentient beings and co-facilitators of experiential work.