Research Paper By Suzanne A. Ewing-Chow
(Executive Coach, UNITED STATES)
The topic for this paper was chosen out of curiosity and a love of horses. I had never heard of Equine-Assisted Coaching until approximately 1 year ago. I stumbled on an article entitled “Horse Sense” in an Oprah Magazine and became intrigued. I wanted to learn more and determine if coaching with a horse is beneficial and more importantly does it impact a client’s ability to learn and grow and achieve the results they desire.
What is Equine-Assisted Coaching?
Equine-assisted Coaching is coaching involving a partner, a horse that works with the coach and client. Coaching with a horse takes place on the ground in a round pen followed by a session with the coach. An Equine Coach must have knowledge and experience with horses to ensure the safety of the client while working with the horse. The client receives basic training on the do’s and don’t’s around a horse and interpreting the basic signals from a horse. Typically the client does not ride the horse unless the client is fully experienced with horses. Equine-assisted coaching allows the client to connect with the horse and gain valuable insight into their own interaction with others and their ability to communicate both on a verbal and non-verbal level.
Why use horses in coaching?
Horses are prey animals that survive by living in herds. Their social nature is highly developed which accounts for their sensitivity and keen ability to “read” their surroundings. Their social nature also accounts for their intense need to know who is leading at any given moment. That sets up a natural environment for humans to practice reading the horse and getting genuine feedback about how well they are doing (Andersen, p. 3, 2009).
Horses are not predators despite their size and speed. Horses move in herds constantly vigilant for danger and are uniquely tuned into their environment and what is happening in the present moment. Italian Neurologists have concluded that horses have “empathic resonance”.
This preparedness to spontaneously mirror other peoples feelings is not consciously controlled and is not registered consciously either. (Andersen, p. 8, 2009)
Similarly, humans live in herds within a hierarchy system, communicate with body language and can mirror feelings and emotions allowing for feedback between the species. Their ability to sense their surroundings and all that is present in their environment makes them valuable in a coach setting.
In this unique dance between client and horse, the horse provides instant feedback to the client. Once a client is in a round pen with the horse, the coach may start in the pen with the client and then move to the outside of the pen. During this time the coach is providing instructions for the client.
Equine Teachers are unlike any human teacher you’ve experienced. They provide loving, transparent, and immediate feedback that will shine practical light on the thought patterns and limiting perspectives that may be holding you back. (Simpson, Private Equus Coaching).
If the client is sending conflicting messages with their body language and verbal messages the horse will turn away or not follow their verbal direction. A client immediately and visually learns they are not being direct in their communication. Once a client is congruent in their verbal and body language there is harmony with the horse.
Words on paper describing equine coaching do not fully convey what is actually taking place in an equine coaching session. The video (6:20min) below demonstrates an equine coaching session. Watch while Donna Reed learns to express her needs clearly and see how the horse reacts to Donna: (koellesimpson334411).
Observe the changes in Donna and the mirroring by the horse, as at first she is hesitant, and then gains confidence.
Both (Strozzi, 2004 and Kohanov, 2003) authors also describe that when people experience this connection with the horse, they receive a very strong feeling that they are close to themselves – in their core, and because this experience is very physical it inculcates very strongly. (Andersen, p. 10, 2009)
Equine-assisted Coaching can be a life changing experience that deeply impacts the client and instills new awareness.
What is the Coach’s Role?
Some may think the horse replaces the Coach, however, the coach plays a very important role in equine coaching. The coach prepares their client for what they can expect in the round pen and this can be achieved, in part, through a Coaching Agreement. Often clients experience their emotions deeply while working with horses and addressing this aspect with your clients ahead of time allows them the opportunity to be present with their emotions. More importantly, preparing your client for Equine-assisted Coaching can be achieved through an introduction to the horse, perhaps grooming the horse. This allows the client to become more familiar and comfortable with the horse prior to starting the coaching session.
Coaching with a horse is no different than a regular coaching session in that the session is kept private and confidential. The focus of the session remains with the client and their agenda for each session. During the coaching session with the horse, the coach is present providing some instruction and guidance and observing the interaction between client and horse. The coach must use their intuition to determine when to ask questions as in a typical coaching session. What is different about equine coaching is
active listening expands to include active feeling and seeing. Being able to coach the client on these multiple sensory levels requires a high level of awareness and more than a little skill for the coach. However, it is one of the ultimate ways of creating awareness for the client. (Equine Alchemy, 2014).
Listening attentively on multiple levels are very much part of Equine-assisted coaching and an essential role of the coach.
During Equine-assisted Coaching, powerful questioning by the coach can be challenging. The dynamics are changed whereby the client is working directly with the horse and the coach is outside this dynamic. The coach becomes part of the lively interaction between horse and client by asking a question and the coach must be perceptive and intuitive to know if to interrupt their dynamic and whether the question would add value and benefit the client. The coach must “hear, see and feel when it is the appropriate time for your intervention.” (Equine Alchemy, 2014). Powerful questioning, as in a typical coaching session, is very intuitive in an Equine-assisted coaching session and assists the client with gaining clarity or new insights.
It is after the Equine-assisted Coaching session the client has an opportunity to review their experience with the horse. During this after session the client can further explore what was revealed to them during the equine coaching and to apply what they have learned. An example would be the coach asking how the client would handle a similar situation in their life.
The coach/therapist translates into words the horse’s kinesthetic insights and feedback about the client’s mental, physical, spiritual emotional and social well being. (Andersen, p. 10, 2009).
The coach holds the space for the client and utilizes powerful questions while listening intently and monitoring their judgment. The coach works with the client to create awareness, develop an action plan, set goals and manage progress. Equine-assisted Coaching helps the client to create metaphors and draw parallels in their life in general and to view themselves from the outside.
Usually a horse is a good mirror for a person’s behavior. When the 1500-pound horse misbehaves, does the owner get angry? Do they look for a physical reason the horse is misbehaving? They look for a visual reason, such as a trash bag being blown along the driveway, or an unsecured tarp waving in the wind? Do they jokingly tell the horse it’s nothing to worry about, or, do they lash out at the horse, yell at it, or worse, hit it? These can be powerful insights as to how they behave in situations with people. (Serad, p. 10, 2010).
The client has an opportunity to discover strengths and new areas for learning and growing. The after session allows both coach and client to examine the equine-assisted session and integrate and interpret the results.
What purpose does the horse serve?
Working with horses provides a non-judgmental mirror for the client. Horses do not know your status or rank, the difference if you are the CEO or stay-at-home Mom or the color of your skin or the country you are from. Horses respond to how they are being treated.
Horses accept all aspects of us, even the more embarrassing and shameful parts of us. (Andersen, p. 10, 2009)
If you are thinking one thing but your body is revealing another the horse will sense the incongruence. As humans we have the ability to cover-up and hide our feelings and it may take many coaching sessions to uncover this habitual technique that is very subtle. Horses have an uncanny ability to sense the truth about you and you cannot hide. A horse can immediately detect the inconsistency and the client will need to address the inconsistency before gaining harmony with the horse. The client in turn may gain insight of how their interaction with others sends mixed and confusing messages resulting in relationships that are problematic and stressful.
When would you use Equine-assisted Coaching?
As a coach offering Equine Coaching, you must be mindful of your client’s cultural affiliation and the barriers clients may encounter such as having the time to work with horses, the distance to travel to work with horses and any health issues. A coach must be very experienced with horses and have a well-trained, well-behaved and dependable animal that likes people and the coach must know the animal before ever allowing a client with a horse. Equine-assisted Coaching is not meant to replace traditional coaching. It is often considered after establishing a relationship with your client. A client must be open to the idea of working with horses and have the time commitment. Often, Equine Coaching is used with Business Executives or in business team settings and is applicable in many other areas. Equine Coaching moves the client to another level and can help the client in areas they may be struggling with or just can’t seem to break through.
Do clients benefit from Equine-assisted Coaching?
Dr. Barbara Walton, MCC, ICF Global Past President provides her clients with Equine-assisted Coaching Services. In her experience with clients and horses,
most people can cover their fears very well in their communication, unless they’re really anxious, but this is the more subtle fear, the more subtle nuances that an individual may have learned to navigate in their interpersonal interactions. (Walton, 2013, p. 31).
A client may never reveal these fears but horses will pick up what is hidden. The experience with horses opens up the client to learning more about themselves and allows the coach to understand more about their client permitting a new path to be followed during coaching.
Clients have indicated the connection and bonding with the horse facilitates learning and growth that is long lasting. They become more authentic and their method of communication aligns with their mind and body language to convey an authentic message.
The participants experienced the horse as a kind of truthful witness giving a very honest feedback on what they had to deal with. What participants also stated was that this feedback was very straight forward without any interpretation. They found this mirroring very clear, and that it happened instantly. It confirmed their feelings of what was right for them. (Andersen, p. 36 – 37, 2009).
Clients receive immediate feedback from the horse and rapidly learn how their method of communication impacts others and themselves.
Equine-assisted Coaching is a relatively new method of coaching and is proving to be beneficial in helping clients in all areas of their life. A coach with the ability to deliver Equine-assisted Coaching to their clients provides clients a means of deeply exploring the barriers they may face in their life. Clients interested and open to being coached in tandem with a horse gain valuable insight.
Through coaching with horses, people discover their own unique brilliance as well as ways to integrate these gifts into their lives, work and relationships to create the life they have always desired. (Equine Alchemy).
The inherent intuitiveness of horses and their non-judgmental interaction with humans offers a tremendous benefit in a coaching application. Dr. Walton states
Clients have credited Equine-assisted Coaching with helping them get real enough to tell a truth that allowed a deep conversation to happen. (Walton, Coaching World, p. 32, November 2013).
The horse serves as the “Truth-Teller” and reveals when a client is not being truthful.
Horses react to what lies in our hearts, not in our heads. They are not confused by the words we use to lie to ourselves or hide from others. (Hamilton, 2011, p. 7).
The connection made with the horse at a deep, core level delivers a lasting lesson on communication to the client and reveals a truth they cannot hide from.
Andersen, V. (2009, October 15). Equine Guided Coaching - A Critical Exploration of the Use of Horses in Coaching. (Unpublished M.Sc. dissertation) Retrieved February 28, 2014, from isar.dk/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Final-dissertation-report-excluding-appendix-D.pdf
Equine Alchemy (2009) Retrieved July 19, 2014 from
Hamilton, A. J. (2011). Zen Mind Zen Horse: The Science and Spirituality of Working with Horses. (D. Burns, Ed.) North Adams, MA, USA: Storey Publishing.
koellesimpson334411, (2012, April 9) Retrieved July 19, 2014 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIMKy0BOX9U.
Serad, L. (2010). Aspects of Using Animal-Assisted Interventions in a Coaching Model. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. (Unpublished M.Sc. dissertation Submitted to the Program of Organizational Dynamics in the Graduate Division of the School of Arts and Sciences in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Organizational Dynamics at the University of Pennsylvania). Retrieved February 28, 2014 from http://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1029&context=od_theses_msod
Simpson, K. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2014, from http://koelleinc.com/private-coaching/
Walton, B. M. (2013, November). Taking Off the Blinders. Retrieved February 24, 2014, from ICF Coaching World: issuu.com/internationalcoachfedertion/docs/novcw/1