Building a Sense of Mastery and Relatedness with Horses

“Thank you – this group gave me a chance to see the real me.” — Participant, Building Internal Resilience Through Horses

This month we welcomed the 12th group of young women to Building Internal Resilience Through Horses. We are so grateful for this collaboration and research initiative between The Mane Intent, Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre and Trent University funded by Public Health Agency of Canada. We are supporting young women 13 – 18 years of age who have experienced trauma with a 10 week program that includes equine experiential learning and expressive arts.

This is truly a collaboration that extends across the community. We truly appreciate the many local agencies referring participants to the program including:

  • Peterborough Youth Services
  • Kawartha-Haliburton Victim Services
  • Peterborough Police Victim Services
  • Northumberland Victim Services
  • Canadian Mental Health Association Peterborough and Lindsay
  • Kawartha-Pine Ridge District School Board (Norwood HS, Crestwood and Norwood HS)
  • Mon Ami
  • Child and Youth Clinic (Peterborough Regional Health Centre)
  • Sexual Health Unit

This project is informed by the premise that resilience is “not an inherent trait that a person either has or doesn’t have; it’s a learned way of thinking, feeling and acting that can be developed in anyone,” according to Dr. Kateryna Keefer, Research Lead for the BIRTH project and Senior Lecturer, Psychology Department at Trent University.

Three broad clusters representing factors that contribute to resilience are recognized including: Emotion Regulation, Sense of Mastery, and a Sense of Relatedness. “These clusters represent basic psychological functions essential for positive youth development, yet they’re also the very systems disrupted or threatened by traumatic life experiences,” Dr. Keefer notes. Key strategies for promoting resilience are to pre-build or re-build capacities in these areas and that’s the thinking behind Building Internal Resilience Through Horses.

Working in relationship with horses invites us to create connected relationships, decrease hyperarousal, express our emotions, develop communication skills, promote self-esteem and ultimately, become more self-aware.

We shared our preliminary research results at the Annual FEEL (Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning) Alumni Conference in June and the Inviting Resilience conference hosted by the project partners in May at Trent University.

Research results to date indicate participants are gaining greater awareness of their emotions and the effects their emotional expressions have on others. They are also more accepting of their emotional experiences, both positive and especially negative. Participants are also gaining an increase in their sense of relatedness. They are learning to recognize the common humanness of their experiences, to be more open to asking for help and giving help to others. They are also learning to trust again.

Finally, we are seeing gains in the participants’ sense of mastery. As noted by one young woman: “Having a grasp on leading the horse without feeling any sense of doubt – I can apply what I learned today to my personal life.”

Experiential learning with horses that truly is making a difference for me represents shared blessings and harvest. I am thankful for all of it. For more information about Building Internal Resilience Through Horses, visit

About the Author: Jennifer Garland is the Owner/Program Director of The Mane Intent, offering Health and Wellness Workshops and Individual and Team Effectiveness Coaching. Jennifer’s intent is to bring horses, donkeys and humans together to explore new possibilities and find new meaning in lived experience.

Book your experience today: 705-295-6618

The Mane Intent

October 1, 2019

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