Chances are you’ve seen an article on the news or one has popped up on your Facebook feed recently about equine assisted personal development. As a field, it’s gaining popularity and recognition. Now you may be asking yourself, why horses?

Horses are prey animals.

As prey animals, they are very aware of micro-cues and micro-expressions, which are small shifts in body positioning and language that indicate that change is about to occur. These micro-expressions can also communicate information over long distances.

Humans communicate the same way. Depending on what study you read, roughly 55– 70% of our communication is non-verbal. As humans, we tend not to be aware of it; in fact, sometimes we’re quite oblivious as to what conversation is going on!

Can you think back to a time when you got into an argument with your girlfriend or boyfriend, and in the middle of the argument you thought to yourself “Where did that come from?” Chances are things had been building for a while, but because you weren’t aware of the signals that your partner was sending you or you listened to the words that were spoken instead of the other 70% of the message, you completely missed the point and ended up in a fight.

Horses don’t have the luxury of ignoring body language. As prey animals, they have to be intensely aware of what is going on around them at all times, and they have to be in tune with the health of the herd, both physically and mentally. Their survival depends on the survival of the herd. Not being aware and in tune means being someone’s dinner.

They also can’t lie. That’s right. It’s not that they won’t lie, it’s that they literally can’t lie.

A horse’s body language reflects their emotional and mental state. An agitated horse will act in an agitated manner. When you throw in the herd mentality, you get an animal that is in tune with the emotions and mental state of those around them. As a herd member, the horse takes that emotional and mental energy and reflects it himself.

Now if you take a human and throw them into this herd, you get horses who are mirroring the emotions and mental state of that person. Let’s say that you have a person who is nervous but pretending to be brave. The horses will instinctively react to the nervousness and mirror that behavior to the rest of the herd members to alert them that something isn’t right.

In a coaching (or therapy) session, this can be incredibly useful for both the participant/client and the coach/therapist, especially when you’re digging into topics that are deep and hidden inside of the client/participant.

When you have a 1000 pound animal near you that is visually manifesting your reactions, it can be a pretty powerful realization of how affected you are by things that you may be dismissed as a non-issue.

With all of this in mind, it’s easy to see why horses might be a good fit for a life coaching session. Life coaching is about change. Be it encouraging, shifting, or galloping towards it, every single person who goes to a life coach does it because they want something to change. Sometimes getting to that change can be messy or a bit painful, but it’s worth it.

It can be easier to make that journey when you know you have a partner who will be with you every step of the way. Even though you don’t speak the same language, they can still support you silently just by their presence and acceptance. Sometimes, that’s all you need to make that small shift that leads to a huge change.

Amanda Pratt is a certified Equine Assisted Learning facilitator with The Equine Connection Therapeutic Riding & Learning Centre who works with clients to help them develop their true potential. She is also a certified therapeutic riding instructor and life coach. You can connect with her and keep up-to-date with the goings-on at the farm via The Equine Connection’s website and Facebook.