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Match-Making Clients and Horses

One of the things I guard against, in all this talk of categories and quadrants and such, is thinking that a particular Horsenality™ is the best or only horse for a given diagnosis or situation. I want to guard against match-making the horse and the client. Although I may have suspicions about which horse is going to be a great fit for a given client, I’m almost always going to start out with that horse in a group of horses, giving the client and the horse a chance to determine for themselves what happens next! I’m interested in being open to “mutual choosing,” such as happens when the horse and human appear to select each other. If left up to simply my choice of a particular horse for a client, many wonderful learning moments might never have happened. Some of the most insightful sessions have happened when I allowed the horse to choose the client!

The Healthy Horse and EAP/EAL

One of the key questions that came up in the process of researching this book and having these conversations is: What is a healthy horse? Young or old, healthy or unhealthy, horses offer feedback when being invited into relationship. We ask them to do all sorts of things, tolerate various forms of sensory input, and even put up with situations involving a great deal of repetition. This is perhaps the more import- ant question one should ask before selecting any horse for session, certainly out of a sense of responsibility toward the horse’s well-being, but also because it makes sense that a horse cannot be fully balanced or appropriate for client interaction without being healthy, depending on the kind of interaction. So I’ll try to define a healthy horse.

A healthy horse is sound, not just in body, but in mind and spirit as well. She is getting her basic needs met at multiple levels: social, emotional, and physical. Physical fitness is often the easiest and the most obvious of these aspects to address when it comes to health; mental and emotional needs can be more subtle and harder to identify. If a horse is an Extrovert, she needs room to move. If she’s Left-Brained, she needs mental challenge and emotional stimulation appropriate to her play drive and energy.

Given our circumstances, an environment that is as natural as we can manage is also the best one for a healthy horse. When I say “natural,” I look to emulate what nature has provided to horses. This means being outdoors as much as possible. Keeping horses outside goes a long way toward feeding their emotional and mental health. At Horse Sense, we keep our horses in herds, pastured 24/7 except during feed- ing, in harsh weather or for specific horses with certain health issues. We strive to keep everything—from feed to farrier to vaccination and de-worming—as natural as possible. Our horses receive organic, simple, mostly unprocessed feed. A basic vitamin mixed into grain is also ideal, providing you have the means to afford it. We also feed mixed- grass hay year-round, as necessary, to minimize the risk of colic. We provide free-choice minerals and both red and white salt. We generally don’t shoe our horses unless needed for support, balance, or correction of an issue. One of our guides in this regard is Pat Coleby’s Natural Horse Care (2001).

But, the reality is that not everyone can keep their horses in a totally natural environment. We sometimes have to think creatively to compensate or offset the limitations of any given situation. For those who only have a small area in which to keep horses, Jamie Jackson’s book, Paddock Paradise, offers ways for horse owners to set up their property to encourage movement of the herd. There’s a multitude of ways to keep your horse mentally engaged even in less-than-ideal environments and situations. Jayna Wekenman wrote her Masters Thesis on this topic at Prescott College. Entitled “Becoming More Equine Centered: A Curriculum to Enrich Experiential Learning Programs and the Equines They Employ,” her work is unique in the field for horse people who are serious about examining how the equines in their program are being mentally and emotionally stimulated. Check out Wekenman’s new organization, Growing PEAs (find it on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GrowingPEAs/?fref=ts

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