Holding Your Ground: Equine-Assisted Strategies for Setting Boundaries and Saying No to Peer Pressure

Did you know that Horses can read your thoughts and emotions? They have an innate ability to give honest feedback and naturally use their bodies to "know" the world. As sensitive, sentient beings, they are in a unique position in the animal kingdom to teach us in ways never before possible - accelerating learning exponentially in ways we can apply to our lives immediately that creates lasting change.   

I remember working with a group of youth one day, during an activity each participant wrote down on a tag something they treasured and wanted to protect about themselves. Then they each shared what they treasured with the group, and tied their tag onto the chosen horse's mane. One girl, we'll call her Anna, shared, "I'd like to protect who I am, meaning everything about myself, cause I'm accepting who I am!"   

Next, as a group they built a boundary they thought fitting for that horse and attempted to keep the horse, which now represented what each one individually treasured about his/her self, safe in the boundary. As the horse repeatedly stepped out of the boundary, the group's ability to communicate verbally decreased. In the silence a boy, John, looked around, he saw several ropes at the edge of the round pen and walked over to begin tying them together. Anna acknowledged, "I have no idea what to do, I'm just going to follow him."   

The other youth followed suit and only using body language John got each one to hold the rope a few feet around the horse, forming a circle to keep it safe.   

We took a little break while we discussed the next activity, which was to name what could tempt each of them to give up the power to protect their individual boundaries.   

"Peer pressure!" Anna exclaimed.  

Looking at the course set up in the corral, I asked her, "Which obstacle best represents peer pressure to you?"   

"The logs in a row," she said solemnly, "they could trip you up."   

Working as a group they created boundaries at each obstacle to protect the horse from the temptations (buckets with a little grain in them). When they were finished I acknowledged, "Sometimes we need time to think ahead and build strong boundaries against temptations."   

Feeling ready, they led the horse all together through the course, making boundaries as needed to protect what they treasured about themselves from temptations. As they drew near to the logs and the temptation marked "peer pressure" the horse rushed past them, stuck her nose into the bucket of grain, and got a tasty bite! 

Surprised and struggling to protect who she represented (themselves) from further temptation, the group found themselves with everyone on the same side of the horse! Finally one boy hollered out, "Go!" and like a catalyst they gained momentum once more and moved through the rest of the course.   

In the debriefing circle I asked the group, "What happened?"   

"Peer pressure got the best of us!" John said with wide eyes. "We were communicating with body language, using words might have helped."  

Another boy responded, "It was kind of tricky, tricky and hard."  

"Society, rules and peer pressure can trip you up," Anna observed, "you need good relationship skills to keep your boundaries safe."   

Horses are large and powerful animals. Accomplishing a task involving a horse, in spite of fears or perceived limitations, creates self-confidence and provides metaphors for dealing with challenging situations in real life.

Horses mirror exactly what our body, emotions, thoughts and energy is communicating to them, and their honesty makes them especially effective messengers. In addition, their natural responsiveness to clear intention can empower us to discover and accomplish our goals.

What question are you sitting with in your life that you could bring to the work with the horses? I invite you to begin your exploration today. 


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