The horse whisperers

Love and care: A large part of the process is based on consent, and the temperament of the horses.

Love and care: A large part of the process is based on consent, and the temperament of the horses.  

A new workshop on the outskirts of Mumbai facilitates bonding sessions and therapeutic healing using horses

Dramatic clouds drift over the silver-blue waters of a lake in Mawal, Maharashtra. The sound of hooves and a howling wind can be heard in the distance, in between echoes of a torrential downpour. The ambient sounds include swishes of a mane, and soft neighs, emerging from a stable christened ‘Stallion Castle’.

The figurative ‘castle,’ is home to 21 horses who have been adopted by the Fazlani Nature’s Nest — a wellness resort between Mumbai and Pune. Earlier this year, the property introduced an equine therapy program, which facilitates bonding sessions and energy healing exercises using horses.

Aimed at people suffering from anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism, and processing past traumas, the interactive therapy provides a safe space for visitors to cope with their experiences. Curated by Dr. Khushboo Shah, a specialist from Pune, the workshop lasts for two-four days, and includes stay at the property, organic meals at the farm to fork restaurant, yoga and meditation, along with the equine therapy.

Building a relationship

Before my interaction with Shah, I wander through the stables with the caretaker, Dalvi, who bonds with the horses on a daily basis. Seven-year-old Silver peaks out from behind the stable door, and is quick to be joined by her frisky three-month-old foal. As I feed them clumps of grass, I’m suddenly welcomed by a row of eager heads, waiting to be fed and petted. Dalvi tells me how they yearn for their evening playtime sessions, but may often shy away from human interaction, depending on their mood.

Later, Shah explains how these moods help with the therapy sessions, and allow participants to feel present. “Horses are never in their own heads, and are all about the moment. This means that when you’re in the vicinity of a horse, you too, have to be present,” shares the facilitator. This is particularly helpful for autistic children who can be overwhelmed by the sensory overload projected during human interactions. “Horses provide centeredness and a sense of calm, which creates a space of non-judgment,” continues Shah.

Chasing away stress

Through trust exercises such as lying still on the horse’s back as he/she trots through the grounds, or guiding your hands through the horse’s neck, legs, and forehead, there’s a surge of energy that emanates between the participant and the horse. I experience this first-hand as I glide my hands over the mane of Wardh, a blind chocolate-brown horse who has glaucoma. Following Shah’s lead of approaching the horse respectfully, and asking for permission before settling my hands on him, I spend over 20 minutes petting Wardh, before he retreats to his corner. “Our participants who suffer from anxiety and depression take these soothing moments with the gentle animals, and use them as tools in stressful situations,” elaborates the doctor.

According to 2015 article published in The Guardian, horses can hear the human heartbeat within a four feet radius. Horses have the profound ability to synchronise their own heartbeat with that of people. This makes them ideal companions for psychotherapy as they can mirror and respond to human behaviour. Since they respond to our projections, participants are often made aware of their own behavioural patterns that might have gone unnoticed. This helps unearth various psychological traumas, and helps build self-confidence and self-esteem.

Shah also explains that she’s a facilitator in a program titled Conscious Horse, Conscious Rider, that has allowed participants to overcome their body issues through riding. When you ride a horse, you’re tapping into the rhythm of its body and your own, which subconsciously creates a sense of acceptance. “This also enhances leadership qualities since you are guiding the animal in an activity that you both are engaging in,” says Shah.

Gut instinct

During training, Shah was taught to unlearn everything she thought she knew about horse behaviour, and focus on her instinct. A large part of the learning process is also based on consent, and the temperament of the animal. This reminds me of J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter universe, in which Hippogriffs-who have the bodies, hind legs, and tails of horses, and the front legs, wings, and heads of giant eagles–can only be approached if they acknowledge your bow. As Shah says, “We inherently know how to communicate with animals, the problem is that we often forget to listen.”

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 2:18:25 AM |

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