A young woman engages with a horse during equine therapy.

Tap Into Your Deeper Self With Equine Guided Learning

An hour west of Toronto lies a nearly 200 year-old, 23-acre farm named Skye Blue Acres. Unlike other farms, however, Skye Blue Acres doesn’t have cows, chickens, or goats. Instead, the entire farm is dedicated to horses and the Equine Intelligence Academy.

“Humans can learn so much from horses,” says Gail Carruthers, a triple-certified equine guided trainer and co-owner of Skye Blue Acres. “Horses pick up on the vibration of emotion and understand what’s happening with you even if you don’t. We have so much room to grow in terms of how we process feelings and make decisions based on emotions as opposed to logic, and horses can help us get there.”

Carruthers, along with other trainers at the farm, serve as facilitators who “speak horse” and can guide participants through sessions that are geared towards personal development, social-emotional learning, leadership training, and even grief management.

Horses Are the Perfect Teachers

Carruthers explains that the neuroscience of horses is key to understanding why equine guided learning is so effective in humans. Horses have survived for over 55 million years by developing the innate ability to outrun and outsmart predators. They have a “sonic sensitivity” to their surroundings, which allows them to detect both the respiration and heart rate of a potential predator up to a half-mile away.

“What these animals can instinctively tune into is not even on our radar,” says Carruthers. “People don’t have the same understanding of instinct and intuition. Horses can help us to identify areas in our lives that we haven’t been paying attention to, and the best part is that no matter what you’re dealing with, the animal loves you regardless.”

Horses, according to Carruthers, are the perfect teachers because they are non-judgmental and allow you to receive immediate feedback on your emotional journey.

“Horses are the perfect biofeedback mechanism,” Carruthers says. “Horses can sense unease that’s lying under the surface, and won’t even let you walk with them if they don’t feel confident about how you’re feeling. Whatever is happening during your interaction with a horse is a mirror to whatever is going on in your inner life.”

Programs for All Ages and Stages of Life

Carruthers makes it clear that Equine Guided Learning programs are not run by licensed therapists, since the issues they help clients deal with are not clinical. Instead, the programs that Skye Blue Farms has to offer focus on personal development, building teamwork and leadership skills, improving social emotional learning for children, and grief management.

“Our program for kids is really special, and I think it will be more important now because of the pandemic,” says Carruthers. “Touching and connecting with nature and animals has both sensory and emotional benefits. There’s something very soothing about being in nature. Plus, our program really encourages children to embrace moments of quiet and focus on building better relationships.”

By working with the horses, children can also learn how to trust their gut and follow their heart, which is not something that is part of a school curriculum, but every bit as valuable for succeeding in life.

Additionally, the facilitators at Skye Blue Acres really help people who are struggling to overcome grief.

“Our grief program is science and research-based and vetted by a psychotherapist,” says Carruthers. “However, if dealing with grief has led to more clinical issues like depression, we are not equipped to deal with that as we are not licensed therapists. Instead, we offer people a safe space to sit in their feelings, honor what they’re experiencing, and embrace it in order to eventually let it go.”

Carruthers explains that many people end up pushing their feelings of grief aside because they are too difficult or challenging to deal with. By not processing your feelings of grief in the moment, you can be afflicted by those same feelings perpetually, with certain experiences triggering you over time. By choosing not to push the grief away, healing can begin.

“Humans overthink everything and often think that their own feelings are silly or a nuisance,” Carruthers says. “But your brain needs time to move out of mourning, and we need to give ourselves the space to do it. That’s what happens here on the farm.”

Horses Are True Masters of Living in the Moment

According to Carruthers, resistance to acknowledging what is going on around us can be due to our attachments to ideologies, permitting money and power to stop us from living in the moment.

“The concept of inner resistance doesn’t exist in the horse world,” says Carruthers. “While horses can resist getting on a trailer or being led from a paddock against a strong wind, the concept of staying and living in resistance long after a threat is over just doesn’t happen. They don’t resist the need to return to balance, they simply go back to grazing and allow the urgency, fear, and anxiety of the moment to subside.”

This is why working with horses is the ultimate lesson in staying present and living in the moment.

“Horses have survived for 55 million years by becoming mindful gurus. Horses as a prey animal have evolved and survived by perfecting the art of living in the moment, of being both aware and calm at the same time,” says Carruthers. “People often make it sound like horses are unicorns, like they’re magic, but the science behind horses and how they help humans is quite real.”