“As EI researchers, we need to do more work using different experiential approaches to teaching emotional and social competencies. Our visit was a reminder to me that an exciting and very unique pathway for teaching EI-related competencies is utilizing the special relationships that can form between humans and horses.” Dr. James Parker, Emotion and Health Research Laboratory, Trent University
“Unpretentious, non-judgemental, and highly sensitive, horses help us to connect with ourselves in a mindful, emotionally intelligent way.” Dr. Kateryna Keefer, Emotion and Health Research Laboratory, Trent University
When you work with horses, feelings matter. Highly sensitive to what’s happening in their environment and those around them, horses use feelings and emotions as a primary source of information for determining their safety.
Horses at The Mane Intent™ recently had an opportunity to work with another team that also recognizes that ‘feelings matter.’ Researchers from Trent University’s Emotion and Health Research Laboratory participated in an introductory equine experiential learning session facilitated by Jennifer Garland, Program Director/Owner of The Mane Intent and a Trent University alumna.
The session presented an opportunity for Dr. James Parker, Dr. Kateryna Keefer and Masters student Alexandra Ha to learn more about the benefits of working with horses as natural coaches. Horses reflect back to us signals and intentions that we consciously and unconsciously share with one another. By reacting to the most subtle signals and body language, they hold up a magnifying mirror to our interpersonal styles and our behaviours – and in this way, create unique experiential learning opportunities for enhanced self-awareness and developing social-emotional competencies.
The Emotion and Health Research Laboratory has several broad goals:
- Promote research activities that extend current knowledge about emotions, health, and success in life
- Translate this knowledge into practice via educational, vocational, and wellness programs
- Train new researchers, educators, and health care professionals
“I have been thinking about and studying emotional intelligence for over 20 years. Whether we study EI at work, school, or in people’s personal lives it is interesting to note that the same pattern tends to emerge: being emotionally intelligent is an essential component for building resilience for mental and physical wellness. Not surprisingly then, one of most important research questions right now for the area is figuring out how best to develop and promote the emotional and social competencies we call EI,” explains Dr. Jim Parker, adding: “Certainly some encouraging programs and teaching materials have been developed, but many of the competencies being targeted can’t be taught in the classroom. It is like learning to ride a bike by watching a video— you don’t stay up on the bike very long when the rubber hits the road. As EI researchers, we need to do more work using different experiential approaches to teaching emotional and social competencies. Our visit was a reminder to me that an exciting and very unique pathway for teaching EI-related competencies is utilizing the special relationships that can form between humans and horses.”
Dr. Parker is a professor in the Department of Psychology at Trent University (Ontario, Canada) who leads the Emotion and Health research team and he is the university’s former Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Emotion and Health. Dr. Parker earned his Ph.D. in psychology from York University (Ontario) in 1991, and from 1991 to 1994 was a research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. Dr. Parker has published over 100 articles and chapters, mostly in the areas of emotion and health. He co-developed the Coping Inventory for Successful Situations (CISS; published in 1990), a widely used measure of basic coping styles. More recently, he co-developed the youth version of the BarOn Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i: YV, published in 2000), the first reliable and valid measure of emotional intelligence for children and adolescents. He is co-author of Disorders of Affect Regulation (1997) from Cambridge University Press, and the co-editor (with Reuven Bar-On) of The Handbook of Emotional Intelligence, published in 2000 by Jossey-Bass. Dr. Parker also has experience in horsemanship, having guided trips on horseback through the Canadian Rockies as a teenager on a horse named Whisky.
“Unpretentious, non-judgemental, and highly sensitive, horses help us to connect with ourselves in a mindful, emotionally intelligent way. What does it mean to be emotionally intelligent? A person may understand the difference between fear and anger, ways of dealing with upsets, or the nuances of social etiquette. But emotional intelligence is more than just intellectual understand; it is a dimension of lived experience — the flow of action and reaction, in the moment, with another being. Developing emotional intelligence requires the adoption of mindful awareness that can expose outward assertiveness as inner vulnerability, self-control as denial, and misgivings we attribute to others as our own,” adds Dr. Kateryna Keefer.
Both Dr. Keefer and Alexandra Ha share research interests in emotional intelligence, resilience and coping and psychological assessment.
The outcome of the day was a greater appreciation for the mutual interests we share in helping individuals better understand their emotional and social functioning. Our intent is to continue to explore opportunities to work with this special group of researchers to develop research-based programming offered by The Mane Intent™ that will help to show how horses can emotionally transform the lives they touch. That’s how our herd is connecting people to possibility.