So yesterday was International Women’s Day, and what better for Save a Horse Australia’s President, Candida Baker, to muse about than the relationship between women and horses? And, more specifically, the extraordinary experience she had last weekend when she joined an amazing group of women on an EFL (Equine Facilitated Learning) course.
I was only five years old when I first noticed that horses made me happy. My best friend, Sally, a couple of years older than me, had a perfect first pony, a grey Welsh Cob called Lucy, as safe, sound and sane as they come, and Sally was kind enough to let me spend hours with them both, grooming Lucy, or walking beside them both while Sally rode, or even riding myself, or best of all, doubling together.
Looking back through the mists of time, there’s something that stands out about those early memories – and that’s the fact that the absolute best times we shared were not necessarily the riding ones. The times spent talking down by the river while Lucy munched contentedly beside us; the times when we would tuck Lucy up in her stable, out of the bad weather, and just hang in there with her, plaiting her mane or simply sometimes just leaning against her, inhaling her warm horsey smell. All three of us just about as content as it’s possible for girls and pony to be.
Fast forward almost sixty years and 12,000 miles away from the country of my birth, and here I am, with a group of like-minded women having just taken part in the Equine Facilitated Learning Level 1 course – in order to become practitioners of this groundwork based course, in which there are three participants – the client, the horse and the facilitator.
After many years of horse rescue and rehabilitation, natural horsemanship and the teaching of my own methods to children, friends, family and volunteer helpers, I’m not new to the world of equine therapeutic modalities, but I decided to do this course for a specific reason – I wanted to have a qualification which will allow me to do something I’m passionate about – to set up horse groundwork sessions for our rescue horses and for those who might benefit from time spent hanging out with horses, in which ‘magic’ is the key ingredient.
And here’s the thing – our move to Withcott is to enable to set up these programs, and so far thanks to all your generous donations we’ve raised $7500 of the $13,000 we’ve budgeted for the move so in order for us to reach our goal, if you would care to donate to our Withcott move at any time in the next six weeks, you can donate by clicking on this link.
It was an intense four days! The clinic was conducted by Elaine Hughes, the guardian of EFL in Australia. Originally from the UK, but now based in Victoria, Elaine has had many decades of horse experience, and has studied with many of the ‘natural’ trainers, but it was a meeting with Frank Levinson, the founder of EFL, that prompted her interest in the program. When she and her family of four and two-legged friends moved to Australia, Elaine partnered with Sally Francis to create AEFL. Elaine teaches the clinic with her two off-siders, Louise, otherwise known as Irish, and her partner Dave.
What I witnessed as we moved through the four days into a deeper understanding of the horse and human bond, culminating in working with ‘real’ clients on the last day is that EFL seems to substantially deepen people’s understanding of their personal issues and feelings, and that some level of fundamental relaxation occurs.
But the careful – almost invisible – guidance of the facilitator also allows children and adults to experience, as Elaine says: “a huge surge in self-esteem and confidence when they realise they can create boundaries and direct a pony or horse to move in a particular way.”
And WOW – the women I did the course with, what an extraordinary group of women, and on this year’s International Women’s Day – with the emphasis on progress this year, I would like to take my (horse) hat off to them. There was Sue and Rachel, both from the Northern Territory; Elisha, Talitha, Sonja and Meg and myself – all local; Nancy from Beaudesert; Naomi from the hinterland of the Gold Coast, Cathy Binz, our new Committee member and Program Director, from Brisbane and Magnolia from Kuranda – near Cairns. It was a privilege to watch these women – the majority with already very high horsemanship skills, listening to Elaine so intently, and taking on board the new concepts she presented so that we could go back out into the world with a whole new level of skill. It just goes to show that you never stop learning!
Over the course of the four days we were given real examples of EFL clients – children who had stopped speaking; people with anxiety and depression; children and adults with physical or intellectual (or both) disabilities; people who were simply afraid of horses and wanted to learn not to be – all of these scenarios (and more) were presented to us either in theory or practice with role play, or clients. It was an incredibly fulfilling experience for all of us to take our already existing horsemanship skills and our rapid immersion into EFL and to witness the ways in which we could help both ourselves, the client and the horse develop what I can only describe as an elasticity of brain and body. We learnt quickly to allow the space for the session to evolve into whatever is most fulfilling for the client and the horse.
Women and Horses. Oh yes.
If you’d like to donate to help us set up our Withcott programs – here’s the link: click here
The next step in becoming an EFL practitioner for us all is ten hours of sessions with clients, so watch this space!
For more information on EFL go to: http://www.efl.net.au/