Back to list of blog entries

Emotional and Psychological Safety in Equine Facilitated Sessions

21 November 2014

Key Themes: "Sacred Space of Possibility"; Vulnerability; Holding Space; Group Facilitations Skills; Group Safety; Ground Rules.

The emotional and psychological safety of clients is vitally important in all equine involved interactions, but particularly so in group workshops.

Participants' physical safety is of course the first priority as we are working with unpredictable, large animals, but I don't wish to focus on that aspect in this particular article.

Healing interactions of any kind with horses are, by their very nature, experiential. They are a physical, visceral and emotional experience and, therefore, one which is pretty hard to forget as it becomes embedded in a person's whole being. This is also why, of course, this form of healing and learning is so highly effective.

Therefore, in each and every experience a client has with a horse is it vitally important that any re-wounding does not occur. By that I mean that people's protective layers and defenses aren't opened up too quickly or too deeply and isufficiently dealt with by the practitioners. And/or that a feeling or traumatic memory which surfaces isn't safely contained, supported and processed within the scope and remit of the workshop.

In addition, and as far as possible, a positive "nugget" is gleamed from each encounter (this does not mean painful or difficult emotions haven't surfaced - it means they have been processed and contained safely).

I can recall each key group session I undertook as a participant before training to become a facilitator. The first one being around setting boundaries, something which for me back then was a terrifying and alien thing to do. Yet the memory of initially exploring that process with a horse and a facilitator sticks well and truly clearly in my memory. It wasn't a smooth session, I was scared and the horse pushed me around a little, but overall I left the round pen feeling as though I had taken an important first step in learning how to look after myself in the face of a large, male animal.

What I want to emphasis here is that each session IS memorable - whether smooth and joyous, bumpy and scary or down-right challenging. So each time we as facilitators accept a booking and run workshops we take on a significant responsibility to set up the workshop in a safe and sacred way. What in the Eponaquest model is called: "creating and holding the sacred space of possibility."

We establish and hold this space from the outset, from the moment participants sit down together as a group, by having a group safety agreement which everyone agrees to sign-up to, and describing what holding the sacred space of possibility is. We then coach the participants to also do this for one another too throughout the course of the workshop, so everyone takes responsibility for this space for the benefit or all involved, including the horses. (The skills involved in this are of course invaluable for the rest of their lives too, so the aim is that they find them so healing, nourishing and beneficial that they take them back in to the rest of their lives).

I am very proud that the approach I trained in, Eponaquest, emphasises this in its teaching and I personally feel it is a crucial aspect of any group work.

As facilitator/s, it is ultimately our final responsibility and task to keep the space safe both when with the horses and within the group. So that for example feedback is given in supportive and helpful ways, not critical or controlling ways, as so many people fall into the habit of doing.

We will make mistakes, especially in the early days of practising and get things wrong sometimes of course, and when we do we must reflect, learn and adapt to improve.  This is also by the way why it is so useful to assist other more experienced practitioners in the early days post-qualifying to see how they do this and learn how to manage group workshops especially.

Take a moment to reflect on your own key experiences as a participant in this powerful modality, and then translate that to your own clients now and those still to come, and remember that the potency of this work is very real, and therefore each session really does matter; very much.

© Angela Dunning, 19 November 2014

Share this page on Facebook