“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”
We often speak about the breaking down of something old, and the rebuilding of something new. A process of transformation. Of repair. Of renewal.
All of which are essential to healing and growth. All of which sound quite lovely, and maybe even trite. . . unless you’ve experienced the breaking down of something old. Literally or figuratively.
You see, a very important part of our growth journey, as an organization, is the longing for space. A deep and growing desire for a place to call ours. A place to invite others from around the world for healing, learning, connection, guidance, reflection, and ultimately renewal.
This place, which we’ve often constructed in our dreams, is finally being built. Yet in the process of actualizing the space that was gifted to us and that we, in turn, are gifting to others – we first faced destruction. Demolition of that which no longer served us, the horses, or the land.
NL Headquarters, Back Forty
In the physical sense, we first engaged in the demolition of over 100 horse stalls that represented an old relationship with horses, one that departs from the relationship principles that we hold dear.
We tore down worn and tired buildings and fence to birth in their places more uplifting and inspiring spaces. While honoring wise and breathtaking trees, and the land that’s invited us here, we cleared dying brush and paved a road where hope could come, grow, and spread—departing back to its home.
The Destruction was Harder than I Expected
Call me naive, but I had this image of a huge wrecking ball knocking everything down, and WHAM! Just like that, the old is leveled. It wasn’t quite like that. It was much more slow and methodical and painful. Imagine squeaky machinery removing parts of buildings bit by bit.
There were moments of intensity, but taking down the old took much more time than I expected. And there was fallout – unintentional damage was done throughout this process. For example, water lines were busted and days were spent repairing this damage. And the clean-up, so much clean-up. . . This took even longer.
Once buildings were removed, the mark on the land still remained. The scar that shows what once was. Some parts of our land are now ready for healing and growth and the process of creating something new!
NL Headquarters, Back Forty
The Repair and the Creation
Honoring the belief that the land’s ability to offer and support healing is in direct proportion to how much the land itself is healed, we have enacted a plan that involves continual pruning, healing, growth, and creation.
We, as people and living beings, heal in the same way the land heals. Sometimes structures that no longer serve us must be identified, broken down, and removed. And it takes the time it takes. No quick fixes or wrecking balls.
My clients are the most amazing and brave people I know. I love it when they reach out to me because they’re ready to do the hard work of healing, and I often remind them that “hurry up and heal” isn’t really a thing. You can’t rush your healing (a song I recently learned from one of our Rhythmic Riding participants).
I have also recently experienced that there are consequences to rushing the destruction and the clean-up. Destruction that is necessary to make way for creation.
Through our collaboration with That’s the Dream Ranch the entire place is beginning to heal.
NL Headquarters, Hay Field
Land is resting and grass is growing. New fences are being built. A new well has been dug. Ponds are being developed to manage erosion. New septics, new windows, drywall, air conditioning units, and on and on.
We are currently in the process of refurbishing the inn, where our guests can rest—and just like caterpillars—prepare for their own metamorphosis. That is, their own destruction and rebuilding.
It is our humble hope that all who enter our gates will experience the safe breaking down of that which no longer serves them and the slow healing and deliberate creation that follows.
People searching for transformation—for themselves and for their clients.
People like you.
Communities like ours.
We look forward to both the demolition and the rebuilding that we will do together as a community.
By Kate Naylor and Bettina Shultz-Jobe
A heartbeat. Waves rolling in and out on a sandy beach. The rising and setting of the sun.
The aroma of your favorite meal. A long walk to clear your head. That sense of joy that comes from swinging on a swing.
Your partner walking in the door at 5 o’clock every day and offering that same greeting they always do. The connection that follows a relational repair. The sound of horses munching on grass.
This is rhythm.
Our bodies and minds crave rhythm. It exists both figuratively and literally in our daily lives, and offers us repeated experiences of predictability in our environments, our relationships, and in our bodies.
Not surprising then, rhythm is one of the three necessary components of trauma informed care as outlined by Dr. Bruce Perry and many other experts in the field of trauma and attachment. Others like Bonnie Badenoch, Dan Siegel, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Pat Ogden, and Bessel van der Kolk emphasize the importance of rhythm in our lives.
Without rhythm, we miss an integral part of the healing puzzle. In fact, we cannot offer Trauma Informed Care without it.
We also experience plenty of moments that are filled with a lack of rhythm, a lack of predictability – times of sensory, environmental, or relational chaos. These moments have an impact on us too.
The practice of creating rhythm in relationships
Recognizing literal and figurative rhythms allows us to use them to enhance our programs, our work with clients, and our own healing work.
Join us for the Fundamentals of Natural Lifemanship to:
- Better understand how sensory rhythm is always affecting us, even in the very beginnings of life
- Rhythmically connect with our bodies and the world around us to regulate the nervous system
- Experience how much the rhythm of our movements matter (especially around horses!)
- Learn the components of rhythmic environments
- Feel how to BE in rhythmic relationships with humans, horses, and other animals
… and how to creatively bring more intentional rhythm into your sessions for effective (and fun!) therapeutic work.
The benefits of rhythm
With more rhythm, you can expect a more regulated mind and body – setting you up for more client progress and less professional burnout.
Pssst…in the Fundamentals, you will also come to understand the other two necessary components of effective trauma informed care!
Improve professional competency, enhance your work, and engage clients in lasting change – with the Fundamentals of Natural Lifemanship.
This past August I attended the 2022 HHRF research conference – a conference about horses and human research. I joined roughly 60 other people in our field for one and one half days of presentations on some of the latest research in the field.
If you are not familiar with HHRF, it is the Horses and Humans Research Foundation. Its mission: “Through Sustained Investment In Rigorous Research, HHRF Serves As A Catalyst To Advance Global Knowledge Of Horse-Human Interactions And Their Impact On The Health And Wellness Of People And Horses.” The conference was attended by a fairly equal mix of researchers and practitioners, including some who represent both roles, as well as HHRF Board members, volunteers and industry leaders.
The presentations and panel discussion at the end opened up many fruitful conversations about the state of research in the field and where we go from here. I’d like to share a few of my impressions followed by the Natural Lifemanship Institute’s (NLI) research goals, moving forward.
- The value of employing mixed methods to better understand complex phenomena (horse-human interactions)
- The imperative of adopting common terminology and the need for sufficient ways to distinguish between different approaches to intervention through EAS so that findings can be discussed in terms of program components
- The need for more research examining the mechanisms of change in different EAS interventions (therapeutic riding, psychotherapy incorporating horses, etc.)
- The relative plethora of research examining the impact of EAS on individuals with disabilities and on veterans with PTSD, and the need for studies that broaden the populations of interest to include children and adults undergoing mental health treatment for complex trauma
Beyond Rating Scales: Objective Physiological Measures are Increasingly Employed in EA Research
A highlight of the conference, for me, was the number of investigations that examined biobehavioral and/or psychophysiological measures of human and equine well-being and stress.
Several of the studies sampled the horse’s and/or human’s cortisol, oxytocin and heart rate variability (HRV), for example. Some examined the efficacy of EAS interventions in terms of human outcomes while simultaneously taking the horse’s wellbeing and stress response into consideration. This is a very encouraging movement in the field and while there is still much to be understood, many of the methods presented were both feasible and reliable, and can be used with both horses and humans.
Others presented research on the perceived benefits and impact of EA services on the humans who participate in such services. Studies of this nature abound in this field and rely mostly on rating scales where the participants themselves and/or close others rate the participant on variables of interest (e.g., anxiety, depression, mindfulness skills) by completing questionnaires or interviews. These are typically pre-post designs that compare the data collected before, during and after the EAS intervention to observe change.
Yet other studies utilize behavioral observation protocols to document observable behaviors of the human and/or horse participants within and outside of EA sessions. These focus on behaviors that can be seen and counted. Specific behaviors are watched for, counted over a period of time or at specific intervals, and sometimes rated in terms of intensity. Scores may then be generated in terms of frequency, duration, and intensity of behaviors and these scores may be compared at different points in time to detect change.
Triangulation of Data & Breaking Things Down
The general consensus is that each approach has its strengths and limitations, and that, ideally, research projects should aim to employ mixed methods wherever possible to collect both subjective and objective data collected in quantitative and qualitative ways. Triangulation of data, which means taking into consideration multiple sources of data, generally provides researchers a more comprehensive picture of what they are seeking to understand.
In my experience with research and especially program evaluation, I feel it’s important to emphasize the need to break things down. We tend to want to demonstrate the effectiveness of interventions as a whole without taking the pains to understand and test their component parts. We always get the question, “Does psychotherapy incorporating horses work?” when we still need to understand how it works, under what conditions, and for whom. It’s important to devote our attention to understanding the mechanisms of change, meaning, what occurs in an intervention that produces its effects or lack thereof? What specifically serves as a catalyst of change, what other factors support those catalysts, and what factors may constrain them?
The Key: Carefully Selecting Mixed Methods
Furthermore, as many of the researchers at this conference pointed out, there are things we wish to measure (for example, stress) that are considered latent variables and cannot be measured directly. They must be measured indirectly by measuring observable concrete variables that occur when the variable of interest is considered to be present. In the case of stress, several things can be measured that point to stress, such as increased heart rate and decreased heart rate variability, increased cortisol, decreased oxytocin, and, of course, the presence of behaviors and/or affects associated with stress. The more valid and reliable sources of data that point to the same thing, the more confidence we can have in our findings and interpretations. This underscores, again, the need for carefully selected mixed methods in our field.
At the Natural Lifemanship Institute, we are strong proponents of research in the field. We base our approach on the science-based understanding of how relationships and relational interactions shape our individual lives across the lifespan. Because relationships matter so much to our development and our well-being as a species, our founders made it their work to figure out what qualities of relationships and relational interactions lead to the greatest well-being for both humans and horses in their relationships. This pursuit is principle based so that it may be individualized. What contributes to well-being in any horse-human dyad is dynamic and dependent on what each party needs and experiences moment to moment. Well-being in relationships requires a dance of attunement. This heuristic applies equally to horse-human relationships and relationships between humans and any species, for that matter.
The phenomena of an individual’s subjective experience of intra- and interpersonal relationships has historically been viewed as a psychological matter and studied within the field of psychology. However, increasingly, the biological sciences have contributed to our understanding that this phenomenon is inextricably linked to our bodies. Our experience of relationships is not strictly psychological; it doesn’t exist solely in our minds. It occupies our brains and nervous systems – and encompasses that which occurs biologically within us and between us.
The biological sciences underscore the influence that individual bodies and their behaviors (both explicit and tacit) have on the bodies and thus the felt experiences of each other. This interpersonal influence makes relationship more than a context or a field in which two individuals co-exist and have discrete psychological experiences; it is more like a shared body, where a third being (the relationship itself) emerges and loops back to each partner, affecting each in potentially healing or damaging ways. There is me, there is you, and there is us. We seek to understand and be responsive to all three. From a research perspective, to observe, describe, and understand these complex phenomena, a translational approach is needed. We must cross disciplines and come together with our respective lenses to undertake productive inquiry.
There is much work to do, still, with respect to research in this field, AND it appears we are on the right track. Thanks greatly to HHRF and similar initiatives worldwide, researchers and practitioners from a variety of approaches and disciplines are joining forces to better understand what we intuitively know to be true: That while it is surely the case that “the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man [sic]”, the relationship is actually more multidirectional; we believe that the inside of a horse is good for the inside of a person, and the inside of a person can be very good for the inside of a horse, as well.
Look for more to come from Natural Lifemanship in this regard. We are dedicated to promoting research that explores horse and human interactions, the effects we have on one another’s positive development and well being, and to understanding the component parts of healing and well-being in our relationships.
We aim to support our community in their research and program evaluation endeavors. Please leave a comment below and let us know what you need.