Equine-facilitated wellness and facing anxiety

Story by guest columnist Jules Rainforth

Spring 2019

“Horses … have an ability to sense our emotions and often mirror them back to us they can even sense those feelings hiding beneath our consciousness”

Equine-facilitated wellness (a.k.a. equine-facilitated learning, mental health or psychotherapy) refers to the process of partnering a person with a horse and engaging in activities which serve to increase one’s emotional development and well-being. Among other things, it is a great opportunity to increase self-awareness, improve relationships, and grow trust, self-confidence, self-esteem, leadership abilities and communication skills.   

Anxiety in particular is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s world. Not a surprise given the expectations we put on ourselves…. Technology has enabled people to dive into their work 24/7, to interact with others at the touch of a finger, and increased the amount of pressure to produce faster and better! Slowing down and being mindful just isn’t something many people are able to do often or well. We have a job to do, children to raise, meetings to attend, household responsibilities … the list goes on.  

Feeling rushed in and of itself has a physiological response in our bodies: our heart rate and blood pressure increase, we breathe faster, and we experience “butterflies” in our stomach. We have all had encounters with anxiety! Whether a pre-existing condition/nature or nurture is responsible, our world is full of anxious people.  

Horses can assist us with anxiety for a number of reasons: they are not thinking about anything other than the present moment; they come to us from a place of non-judgment, and they are always honest and authentic. People, no matter how well intended, cannot be perceived in the same way. Horses also have an ability to sense our emotions and often mirror them back to us – they can even sense those feelings hiding beneath our consciousness.   

Horses provide the treasure for which we are willing to face the dragon. When choosing to face anxiety, it is a necessary component to actually WANT to face our fear. Unwanted situations often lead to typical responses of avoidance, anger, negativity, frustration or lack of focus. People seem to WANT to be with horses, however, and this is a great starting point: when you WANT to ride or engage with that horse you are more willing to push through the fear and this provides an opportunity to practice facing anxiety. The confidence one can grow while working with or riding horses can carry over into our lives and give us a sense of courage day to day.  


Jules Rainforth, owner of Rein Forth Equine, has a BA in psychology, and is an equinefacilitated learning professional and equine professional through EFW-Can