Recently at Serene View Ranch, we have chosen to incorporate horseback riding into our Mindful Warrior Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy program, based on the Natural Lifemanship model of trauma-focused therapy established by Tim & Bettina Jobe. (For more information on Natural Lifemanship: https://naturallifemanship.com)
Mindful Riding (MR) is an eight-week intervention that incorporates horseback riding and psychotherapy in order to help clients regulate their physiological responses to stress and other emotional states, as well as to recognize their relationship patterns and deepen intimacy. We use riding only when it will be more effective and efficient than anything that can be done on the ground; the same principles applied on the ground are applicable and even intensified when on the back of a horse. The sessions take place in the indoor arena in groups including the client, the psychologist and the equine specialist.
How does Mindful Riding work? Studies show that functionality of the brain in people who have experienced trauma such as abuse, neglect, combat, or natural disasters, is often compromised due to disorganization of connections in the brain. These people often struggle with emotion and impulse control, which results in the inability to appropriately handle even minimal stress. MR uses the rhythmic, patterned and repetitive movement inherent in riding a horse to increase and reorganize the connections in the brain. The horse is able to provide the rhythm required to effectively heal the traumatized brain until the client is able to independently provide that rhythm. Clients passively and actively learn to self-regulate through the use of the rhythmic, patterned and repetitive movement of the horse.
In addition, clients learn techniques and skills during MR and are encouraged to practice these more frequently and autonomously in situations in which they experience stress both on and off the ranch, such as:
- Self-regulation: clients learn to control themselves in order to have influence on others in various ways. For example, clients heart rates are measured in order for them to associate these to their stress response. They then learn to feel the horses’ heartbeat and recognize their responses to stress as well.
- Relationship building: Clients learn to identify patterns that cause problems in their relationships by observing their relationship with the horse. For example, if closeness is forced before the client and the horse is ready, it will slow down the development of the relationship. We encourage the client to do some grooming and other activities to keep strengthening the relationship and to get to know the horse better.
- Stress and emotion management skills: Grounding is very important in MR. We try to teach grounding skills in order for the client to be able to ground himself or herself in any stressful situation.
- Relaxation techniques: Breathing exercises, mindfulness, yoga and many more.
All of these skills and techniques, as well as others not mentioned above, are incorporated into the eight-week intervention program. After every session, the client leaves with an assignment, with a main goal of practicing one or more of the skills they learned during the session in their every day life.