Helping Hoof is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization providing equine assisted therapeutic activities and opportunities for growth and learning for those with developmental, emotional and mental challenges.
The heart and soul of Helping Hoof is a loving and respectful relationship between humans and equines (horses and donkeys). You don’t need to know about horses and donkeys to experience their healing potential, we facilitate interactions for you! We have a variety of programs to choose from all centered around human/horse (or donkey!) interaction.
We are moved every session, the horses manage to get at breakthroughs that just weren’t happening without them. We have seen a boy with Autism, who doesn’t call his mother or father by name ask to go to a horse by name, “go Suede”, a young woman with PTSD make a connection about trauma years ago, and another young woman, who was recently unhoused, learn how to overcome fear and ask for help in doing so. Time after time, and in every session, the horses allow us to see ourselves in ways we just haven’t been able to do so on our own.
Horses are prey animals and as such, are really, really good at evaluating if someone approaching is a threat. Does this predator want to eat me? Are they acting like they are not dangerous when in fact they really are? Horses decide if they are open to having a relationship with you based on how congruent you are. Does your outward approach match your internal feelings? If you are afraid of horses and try to approach one acting like you are not scared, you may have fooled yourself, but you haven’t fooled the horse. They probably won’t want to have an interaction with you. If, however, you approach the horse honestly, chances are they will be cautious, but more willing to try.
The horses never judge a person based on anything but their willingness to try and be their most authentic self, the deepest, most true part of you. They don’t care who you know, what you are wearing, how ‘educated’ you are, how you self-identify, or your socioeconomic status. They offer us feedback without judgement.
Horses will often mirror your feelings and emotions back to you. If you take a deep breath around a horse, chances are they will do the same thing. Since they are so good at seeing your true inner state, when a horse holds up a mirror by reflecting your inner self back to you, they often reveal parts of yourself that you- all of us, have had to hide. We all wear masks to get through tough situations and play the roles we must to exist in society. When we ask participants to try an activity like leading a horse with a rope, how they approach the task, figuring it out and its challenges; often their own behaviors are reflected back at them and patterns that they couldn’t see they were stuck in become apparent, or feelings or traumas they have buried deep come to the surface.
Because of Kuniko’s work with individuals on the Autism Spectrum we are well versed in how sensory regulation can impact a person’s ability to perform certain socially significant behaviors. If you don’t feel comfortable in your body, you will probably have a hard time interacting with others in conventionally meaningful ways. Being around horses is great for sensory regulation. They have slower heart rates and breathe more slowly than us. We often start to sync up to those rhythms and it can have a calming effect on us. If we ride a horse, the movement our bodies experience can be like that of walking, without having to walk. For participants who need more sensory feedback, this means they can get it without having to expend their own resources. For participants who cannot walk, the activity engages the core in some ways as though they were. And, for participants with high muscle tone or palsy, they heat from the horse’s body and motion can help soften and relax muscles.
Horses communicate by and large non-verbally. Some speculate that they have millions or even billions more mirror neurons than humans do, and that because of this, they are extremely effective at non-verbal communication. When a participant who may have a hard time with expressive verbal communication, who has benefited from sensory regulation also gets to have a conversation with another living thing without the pressure of using ‘words’ the result can be a desire to have that same level of communication with others in their life. Like, “I really like communicating with my horse friend, now that I am feeling good in my body and I don’t need to focus on getting my sensory needs met, let me see if I can communicate with my parents or friends”.
There are so many reasons horses make such amazing therapeutic partners and we feel like our knowledge of these things make us effective facilitators. We truly believe you will always get something out of time spent with a horse, but that we can guide you to powerful experiences that otherwise might have gone unexplored.