Moving a human from trauma to healing requires the restructuring of emotional response. Both primary and secondary process emotions (conscious and pre-conscious) must be engaged and soothed (regulation of the sensitive limbic region of the brain). This must come in the form of new experiences. The experience of limbic neuroplasticity (the laying down of new neural pathways and responses) was deeply and beautifully expressed by a client in the following:
"What I noticed more than ever today was how all of the horses responded to me. They came close with softness. I did have a story with some alarm come up around the big black, but then I took a belly breath and allowed him to come close. I touched him on the side of his face and acknowledged his presence by looking into his eye. I used to go into such deep states of disconnect that I could not even look anyone in the eyes and my body felt like it was made out of concrete. Today was a magically different experience. Standing next to this big black horse, I felt this overwhelming sense of protection. I felt it throughout my body, especially in my stomach and chest. There was this sense of comforting pressure, like I was being engulfed in a protective swirl of energy. It was a quiet connection that was beautiful - no words or thoughts - just quiet. It felt so good to my body to be sought out for connection."
Limbic resonance gives an equine facilitated experience much of its magic. In the Healing with Horses model of Equine Facilitated Learning, the horses are recognized as sentient partners who are free to be in choice and communicate their opinions - with a sophisticated limbic view point. Each session allows a rich exploration of the shared emotion between client and horse.
Emotion involves all of the brain and via the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) the physical sensations of emotional states are felt, by horse and human alike. Horses have large and sensitive guts (and hearts) which are much larger resonant surfaces for receiving and responding to emotional information.
There are three stages of limbic neuroplasticity between mammals:
Create a limbic bond or connection; becoming curious about and engaged by each other (resonance)
Build mutual understanding and shared communication via challenges (regulation)
Experience a smooth partnership via an attached relationship (limbic revision)
By observing closely the relationship the client builds with the horse, we are able to "see" the subcortical or pre-conscious levels of process that are occurring in the relationship. We also glimpse the patterns that are below conscious awareness in human relationships for the client. Horses often mirror the suppressed emotion and "release" when a human recognizes a feeling they are experiencing in the moment. This brings the client back into congruence even when they are still feeling the emotion. The moment their authentic emotions are known, the horse will sigh, lick its lips, yawn or roll their eyes. These are signals that an energetic release has taken place.
Limbic revision does not just change our feelings or thoughts about relationship; it literally changes the brain creating new neural pathways which can only be born from new experiences. Such is the power of horses bonding hearts with a human.