Horses and Parenting – Part 2

equine assisted therapy

If you missed Part 1 of "Horses and Parenting" please click on the link.

Calm, Connect, Correction

Even if not traumatized, we all experience fear. When we are in a state of fear, the brain switches to the amygdala and shuts down other systems. Therefore, when we parent out of fear, either in ourselves or parenting in a way that creates fear in our child, we are dealing with a more primitive part of their brain and the parts we want to engage are not available at that moment. With this in mind, I created a protocol for handling discipline issues using the big C’s. This stands for Calm, Connect, and then Correction and/or Consequence. Kids must feel safe to get out of their fear brain enough to hear us or learn anything. So, the first thing we do is help them calm. We can hold them, rock them, ask them to find a safe place to do calming things, breathe, meditate, etc. This is NOT a time out as most use it, rather it is a calming time. Then we connect. We remind them that we are on their side. We let them know that we make mistakes too. We can share a similar experience we had as a child, talk about their feelings or our own feelings. Then, and only then, with their brain at a functional level, we can discuss any correction they need to make or a consequence that will occur as a result of their behavior.

"Always be ...."

As prey, it is likely horses are always working mostly from the fear brain or the amygdala. We can then understand that we need to interact with them in a way that helps them feel safe. So, we approach them calmly…. If they are agitated, we help them calm or give them space to calm on their own. Then we connect and through our actions and our heart, we let them know we are safe and loving people. When I train in Theraplay, which is specifically geared towards kids with attachment trauma, I love this mantra. They would say, “Always be Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind”. I find this to fit in my parenting and in my interaction with horses. Being a safe person is being gentle and being firm when necessary. Both kids and horses are comforted when we are safe people. We communicate to them “You are safe with me”…”I won’t let you be harmed and I won’t let you harm others”…”I will do all in my power to not let bad things happen on my watch.” We must always be Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kinder. Keep in mind that this is from work with younger children, but even with older children although we may allow more freedoms, they must still know we are “Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind”.

Dirt Paths and Superhighways

My kids feel safe with me because they have had hundreds and thousands of interactions since birth that have created pathways in their brain that say so. This cushions them for those moments I make mistakes or react out of fear. They know that mom always comes back and apologizes and will help make repair for the hurt I’ve caused. They know that my desire is to make decisions that are in their best interest. On the other hand, kids who have been wounded by their parents or others will be very guarded because they have wiring that was developed through fear experiences. They are wired that way. So, when we receive a child who has this background, we understand it will take a long time of interactions with us before their brain creates a strong pathway of safety. If their trauma pathways are like superhighways, our early interaction will be just a little dirt path. It takes a long time to create another superhighway and close the other road down… a long time…Therapy and especially therapies like EMDR can greatly help speed and grow this process. I wonder if this is similar to the process we need to have with a traumatized horse.


Another thing that comes to mind is that part of raising our kids and being with a horse is that we become attuned. This is part of the attachment process. As kids and horses have safe experiences with us, we also begin to attune to who they are, and what they need. Through bonding and attachment with our children, we parents become attuned. We then can parent each unique child based on who they were created to be, because we begin to understand their distinct needs. We also then begin to see what areas they need growth in and how best to go about that training for them. We see their heart and connect on a deeper level. Can you see how this applies to horses too? They also need to know we are “Big, Strong, Wise and Kind”. We need to bond with them too, and through that attachment process we will attune to them and they will learn to trust us.  Attachment can be healthy or unhealthy, it’s not a matter of attached or not attached. It’s what kind of attachment we create. With my kids, my horses and even with others, my hope is to have healthy attachments where I am seen as a safe human who chooses connection with them, seeks to learn about them, know them and chooses to love them well.

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