Lessons from horses and non-verbal communication

A year ago I attended a workshop with horses that taught me the power of non-verbal communication, which transformed my life and my relationship with my son, Ian. He's eight, non-verbal and was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. I share my story to provide hope and possibility that you can connect with your child on a deeper level beyond words.

Research shows that we communicate less than 10% through verbal language. This means over 90% of our communication occurs non-verbally. We are constantly sending, receiving and reacting to non-verbal messages and children, like horses, are masters at reading these messages.

Before working with horses I struggled to communicate and connect with my son. I didn’t have an understanding or awareness of how my child and I were actually communicating on a non-verbal level even though it was happening all the time. I felt overwhelmed and frustrated and I needed help. I found the answers in the round pen with a horse and as a result, my entire way of parenting shifted.

Typical statements I made before working with the horses:

  • I don’t understand my child’s behavior.
  • I lose my patience far too often.
  • I need to control my son's environment.
  • I get overwhelmed.
  • I don’t have enough energy to meet everyone’s needs.

Sound familiar? After spending time with the horses, I decided to embark on my own journey to find my own place of calm. I learned how to shift my energy to create an environment of peace, trust and playfulness replacing stress, fear and control.

With my son, I first needed to develop trust and a sense of safety in order to create a good connection. This principle translates directly to all parenting whether your child is verbal or not. Building trust and a sense of safety comes first.

Why are the horses such great teachers?

In the round pen, the horses reflect back what you communicate on a non-verbal level. They illuminate any areas where you are struggling. What shows up in the round pen is what is showing up for you as a parent.

With the guidance of horse whisperer and life coach, Koelle Simpson, the horses provided immediate feedback when I was on track and communicating with leadership rather than control. They showed me exactly how to find the balance of leadership, compassion and clarity and demystify the patterns of non-verbal communication standing between Ian and myself.

Horses have the ability to sense whatever you’re feeling in any given moment on an energetic level.

How does that work? When you experience an emotion, there is a physical sensation associated with that emotion. Can you remember a time when you were really happy? How did your body feel? Did you have lots of energy? How about a time when you were sad? What do you recall? Do you notice a difference between the “feeling” of happy and sad? If yes, I propose you consider that you’re noticing the difference between the energetic resonances each emotion represents in your body. When you’re near other people, they can feel that resonance too. These are the non-verbal exchanges going on all the time.

Imagine you drop a pebble into a pond creating ripples. When the ripples reach another object like a rock, the ripples return to the direction they originated. The rock merely reflects back the ripples. The same thing happens in the round pen with a horse. The horse provides a mirror for what you’re feeling. As your ripple of energy reaches the horse, they reflect it back to you. So does your child. Your child can “feel” when you’re stressed, scared, happy, sad, excited, etc.

Non-verbal children on the autism spectrum are especially sensitive to shifts in energy. When you start to open up your awareness and tune into this different level of non-verbal communication, you start to really understand what’s going on for your child and listen beyond words. Even though your circumstances may remain the same, your entire perspective shifts creating a whole new understanding for you and your family.

Koelle and I have created parenting workshop with horses called Listen Beyond Words to help others learn from the wisdom of horses. Feel free to email me with any questions.


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My daughter has been riding since she was 4. We started with Hippo Therapy, but after a year and a half, insurance wouldn't pay. So, I shared a horse with a friend and then ended up buying one! We owned Robina for about 3 years. She was a young horse and my daughter used to ride her bareback with me leading the horse around the arena. Due to financial reasons, we had to sell her, but I tried to keep my daughter riding at various barns.

Today, a dear friend shares her horse with us. My daughter has been taking lessons and can now fully canter this horse around the arena. She says it is the most freeing experience! I ride as well (only I haven't cantered yet), and that horse can be so stubborn for me, but when Vicky get on him, they are in sync. There is truly a connection. I wish every child on the spectrum could have this experience.


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