There is something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man.” Lifelong horse-rider and trainer
Laurene Winkler quotes Winston Churchill matter-of-factly as she explains how a life-changing event led her to train in a ground breaking kind of equestrian psychotherapy that she offers on her farm, Dawning Vista, north of Stirling, Ontario. Winkler is among only a handful of certified equine-assisted psychotherapists in North America following the
global standards of the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association. Coupled with Levine Somatic Experience training, Winkler helps her clients to “regulate and integrate the story that lies behind the one that is spoken” using trauma renegotiation—a leading-edge approach to emotional wellness based on what today’s neuroscience is discovering about brain structure and function.
“In crisis, neural pathways will get set,” says Winkler. “In severe crisis, the message comes into the body in a certain way and then, in future, if a certain experience feels the same, that neural response will be fast-tracked. In working with horses, we’ll see that habit that’s been laid down like pavement. The client discovers it themselves.” Horses and humans have a similar alarm system when under stress that’s known as the “flight action.” A horse will run away if there is any threat. At the same time, as a herd animal, a horse relies on the group for survival. This is similarly understood in the human life experience. Winkler says the horse’s extremely sensitive nature and sophisticated body cues can teach us a lot about ourselves.
“It’s the interplay,” says Winkler. “If a horse feels safe—and horses don’t Horses Healing Humans have any agenda—when they connect in trust with a human being, it gives that person permission to trust him or herself. A person has lost self-trust when he/she doesn’t understand why they’re depressed. So, non-verbally that horse opens doors to awareness.” The horse becomes a vehicle for reflection, awareness and healing because it requires the client to be present in the here and now. Winkler explains that people with emotional challenges can be controlled by the past or intensely worrying about the future. She holds a safe and non-judgmental space for her clients to decide for themselves when and how to interact with the horse once they are ready.
“As clients become more resourced and increase their capacity for selfreflection and connecting the dots in how they feel and behave, the meaning [of interacting with the horse] arrives very gently as he or she is able to manage it,” says Winkler. “If it’s my agenda saying, ‘Hey, look at this right now,’ that is re-traumatizing. Instead, the horse enables the person to work through the stages of increasing his or her capacity in a manageable way.”
A classical musician performing in concert halls and universities before moving to the country and farming for
many years, Winkler began the study of trauma recovery and emotional wellbeing while mentoring young people and adults through stress and anxiety in music performance and horse competitions. She later discovered the world of Interpersonal Neurobiology and realized she had been instinctively living and teaching its concepts.
“The business of leading someone to discover his or her authentic self is what the horse does so very well,” says Winkler. “People learn to listen. They learn emotional honesty, healthy boundaries and clear communication by interacting with horses.” A new study at the University of Arizona has found even when a horse and human were not touching one another that each one’s heart rate variability came into synchronistic parallel. Scientists are saying in that interval lies emotional stimulation. Winkler is saying the implications are huge.
Visit www.dawningvista.com for further information.
by Elizabeth Palermo
Elizabeth Palermo is a writer, yoga instructor and doula living in Campbellcroft with her husband and two boys.