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How do you train your horses for support work?

Updated: Jun 24

I’m often asked how I trained my horses to do emotional support work. The short answer is - I didn’t. Horses are natural gestaltists, and natural healers. They live in the here and now. Sure, they might bicker a bit. And when that little fight is over, they go on about their day. You’ll see them grazing within feet of each other almost immediately after the dust-up.

Now - that being said, horses DO choose whether or not they do the work. Seeker, the mare you see in this photo has been a “games” horse for the majority of her life. Her job was to go fast and win prizes. After she retired (against her wishes, I do truly believe), she has partnered with me for some riding lessons, and about three times in as many years, she has shown up for emotional support.

Until last week. We went on a community visit at a community child care facility. She patiently put up with me giving a “this is a horse” lesson. Until she spotted a young boy on the verge of a neurodivergent “meltdown”. She honed in on him energetically, and when the time came to let the children pet her, she patiently allowed 6 of the 7 to scratch her nose or cheeks. And then the boy who was struggling approached. She pushed herself up against the rails of our portable pen, aligning her heart energy center with his. When the teacher reached for him, he pushed into Seeker’s shoulder, burying his face in her heart center. “Hold on a sec”, I said - knowing that she was regulating his energy.

He visibly calmed. His breathing slowed. His rapid movements (stimming) slowed, and he clearly relaxed. And within a minute, he turned and smiled at his teacher and caught up with his classmates.

Seeker chose him. She chose the work. I did not tell her anything. So no. I do not train the horses to do anything. They just know, and they choose to do the work.

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