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Pets

Meet the horse whisperer who helps people heal with the aid of horses

''Horses reflect back what they pick up from you. People don't do that.''

By Fiona Ralph
Rosemary Wyndham-Jones has taken a life-changing journey, from the suburbs of London ("where there weren't too many horses around") to Dune Lakes Lodge, a magical bush retreat by the coast in Woodhill Forest, in Auckland's northwest.
From here, Rosemary runs retreats, workshops, kids' camps and individual and group equine therapy.
She also hosts an annual Spirit Horse Festival (27-29 March, 2020) and co-founded the Equine Pathfinders Foundation, a charity helping to make equine therapy accessible to everyone.
She learnt about the power of a horse's energy after owning a hard-to-tame horse that nearly killed her.
Now, she and her horses help people dealing with trauma and other issues, including children with high needs and young offenders.
We visited the lodge with community group PTSD Help NZ, which offers services to people coping with trauma.
And that wild horse of hers?
She followed Rosemary to New Zealand and now lives a peaceful life with 10 companions.
Here, Rosemary explains what she has learnt from these magnificent creatures over the years:
The interesting thing is it was me that changed, not the horse, after I learned about horse communication.
It didn't matter how much I loved her; she'd nearly killed me.
The horse was still that big-attitude horse but, after I changed, she got to see me as a partner and I started to get some respect from her.
That's why love sometimes isn't enough; you've really got to get their respect.
I've realised that self-development is all about taking responsibility for whatever you create in your life, especially around horses, or even people.
Rather than the problem always being 'over there' (eg "It's a bad horse"), it's about taking responsibility and realising that what's happening 'over there' is something to do with me.
My biggest learning was to do with boundaries. I had no boundaries with the horse, and then I realised I had none with the dogs, either. You become really aware of the people you let into your space and start to trust what it feels like, not what your head says.
When you're with horses you're in the here and now. It's powerful because you can't be thinking about what you're doing tomorrow or what you've done yesterday.
Horses reflect back what they pick up from you. People don't do that.
We don't always say what we feel; we put up with stuff, then all of a sudden explode over nothing. Horses let you see where you're at, moment by moment.
Once you can read the horse and start to understand what it's saying, you can start to see what's going on for a person.
This is why equine therapy is great for children, because it takes the focus off the child. Whatever anyone says about the horse is actually what's going on for them.
Being with the horses gave the young offenders hope. It gave them a glimpse of another way of being and communicating in the world, and knowing what respect feels like.
You can see people grow and realise how powerful their energy is – that it doesn't have to be aggressive.
Horses give you unconditional regard, so the youths weren't judged. It's a safe place for them to come and just be.
I don't think horses particularly like being ridden. It doesn't matter how nicely they're ridden, it's still about domination and control.
For me, it's all about giving the horses a better deal, because they've had it hard from humans over the last two or three thousand millennia.
It should be a privilege to get on a horse, not a right.
Despite all the abuse and handling they've had, they are still so generous and giving.
If humans could be more like horses, there wouldn't be wars.
If you look at a herd of horses, they basically live in harmony most of the time. If there is anything to sort out, they sort it out very quickly and it's gone.
If horses were like humans, they'd be so busy bickering and fighting that they wouldn't notice the predators coming.
Being around horses releases oxytocin, the love hormone.
You don't even have to be touching the horse; just being in the vicinity of horses releases that feel-good hormone.

What is equine therapy?

Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning (EATL) is a powerful method used in the treatment of mental and emotional trauma, incorporating communication and activities with horses.
At Dune Lakes Lodge, you don't generally ride horses, but instead learn to direct them with your energy, lay beside them, cuddle them, practise yoga next to them, play ball with them, or simply be in their presence.
After a session, you can discuss any resulting emotions or learnings.

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