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How Horses Heal Me on Hard Days as an Autistic Person

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Every time I put my foot in the stirrup and fling myself up on my horse Belle, I know I’m trusting her with my life. I know she has a lot more power and strength than I do, and I know she could unintentionally have me on the ground in a millisecond. I know all this, yet I still choose to climb onboard.

While Belle is walking underneath me, I close my eyes and just feel her movement. It is so smooth and calming, I can easily shut everything out around me. I can literally feel that it is just Belle and me with no surroundings. Horses have been a part of my life since I was 3 years old and are my true companions. Interacting with horses, riding them, and doing barn chores have been a positive outlet for me. They’ve cheered me up on my worst days, were there when I needed a shoulder to cry on, and brought out the best in me. All horses I have worked with, especially Belle, had a way to teach me something. They’ve taught me patience, passion, to relax, determination, trust, responsibility, and most of all to be tough.

Working with horses can help people learn and change unhealthy patterns and behaviors, especially as they affect our relationships with other people. The horse, a non-verbal communicator, gives direct feedback about actions and body language through their own response. Horses are remarkably sensitive and are able to mirror emotions as well as behavior. Horses heal me and so many others on numerous levels and in different ways. They fill me with love, trust, and self-confidence. They help me connect to my body and soul while they open their hearts for me to connect to theirs. Freedom and wilderness are brought into my being, making me braver and bolder than ever before. Horses bring my true self out of me because when I am with them, I can’t hide. I feel like I am with the world while being out of this world.

Horses are the most powerful, sensitive animals we can get so close to. With a solid body and a mind of their own, they can simply go against our wishes and reject our desires. Yet, with their sympathetic and willing hearts, they don’t. Horses can build trust in us because we build trust in them too. This dynamic between a person and horse, predator and prey, a creature so small and another so big, that is what makes the interactions with them so healing. The herd dynamics, on the other hand, are the abilities that empowered horses to survive together as a group. They acknowledged each other, they were kind and humble to each other, and they were ​ extremely accepting and forgiving of each other, regardless of whether they were perfect or not. Most importantly, they were always truthful and fair, non-judgmental, and compassionate, behaving in a way they knew would raise their chance of survival.

All these qualities of herd dynamics are still there when we as people interact with horses today. This is why equine-assisted therapy has grown in popularity. Horses have positive effects on mental well-being and have even helped war veterans with post-traumatic stress, autistic children with social interaction, and imprisoned criminals with changing their path to a more positive one.

Interacting with horses has taught me to trust, practice mindfulness, be more assertive without being bossy, and view myself more positively. Horses have even helped me reduce my anxiety, feelings of depression, and unwelcome emotional outbursts.

Originally published: September 14, 2021
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