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    Why Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning?

    Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning (F.E.E.L.) is not a new field or one that can be practiced only by ‘horse whisperers’ or trained professionals.  Human/horse relationships, in which the horse is the teacher, have existed for centuries, but it is only in the last fifteen years that this has been formalized into an actual therapeutic discipline.

    Domesticated horses retain the thought and behaviour patterns of their nomadic ancestors.  Interacting with these animals on their own terms encourages a fluidity of human thought, emotion, and behaviour that sedentary twenty-first century life makes difficult.

    Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning first and foremost expands nonverbal awareness.  Internet relationships, computer games, cell phones encourage excessive reliance on language and surface appearances.  Modern humans are literally mesmerized by words, yet psychologists have determined that less than 10 percent of communication is verbal.  Vast nuances of information arise from behaviour, emotional import, intent, and more subtle energetic exchanges, qualities so grossly downplayed in post-industrial society that people are losing their ability to function full and authentically in the moment.

    The horses engage us in Experiential Learning – learning by doing.  It is a process through which individuals gain knowledge, acquire skills, and enhance values from direct experience.  Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning (F.E.E.L.) then reinforces the perceptions of change and promotes integration in individuals daily lives to make the learning’s practical and meaningful.

    Horses help people to learn about their nonverbal cues, unconscious behaviour patterns, and the emotional import and intent of their words and actions.  With the Epona Approach we teach people to understand and to use the information behind their emotions.  What would our world be like if we learned to use the information our emotions contained instead of suppressing them or acting them out?  Horses help people to get out of their own way by requiring them to be present to the moment and to not rely on their outdated thought patterns or opinions.

    Horses give people an ‘aha’ experience and acknowledge intuitive insights and perceptions more accurately than humans could ever do.  Horses do not come in with preconceived ideas of who or what this is, or how this person should be in the world.  Horses are concerned with an individual’s honesty and congruence; in other words, horses really rely on actions being more powerful than words.

    The workshops with the horses facilitate rapid change.  The most lasting change occurs with the interactions with the horses and the group dynamics formed at these workshops and sessions.  When we work with the horses and the unconscious is made conscious an individual, with the help of the group and the facilitator, can clearly see their dysfunctional patterns and change can occur.  With this new knowledge and, with reinforcement and practice, lasting change can happen.  The beginnings of a new neural pathway can develop with this work.  An individual can start a new path to a way of responding to a previously triggering situation or stimulus, and eventually this new path will replace the old highway of the automatic survival response.

    The relationship in the here and now can allow for a corrective emotional experience when the past catastrophes do not play themselves out as before.  The individual can experience intimacy and correct their belief that there is something wrong or unacceptable about them.  Horses do not reject an individual who is clear and congruent.  They do not have judgment about the individual’s past mistakes or character defects.  The gift of therapy through the wisdom of the horse can begin the healing process without diagnosis or labeling.

    The goal of Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning (F.E.E.L.) is about FEELing the experience of the majestic horse that whispers to us about our ability to communicate with others effectively and to listen to ourselves authentically.

    Editor’s Note: This document is courtesy of Horse Spirit Connections, instructors of the F.E.E.L. Facilitator Certification Program which two of our farm partners, Cindy MacDonald and Kaileen St. Antoine, graduated from in May 2011.