Horses and humans in harmony – The healing ways of Oppistal

During the workshops, participants are paired with a therapy horse for the day

Oppistal is a fully fledged equestrian facility situated in the beautiful Cradle of Humankind. They strive to create harmony between humans and horses. Yolanda Steyn, director of Oppistal, believes that horses can assist humans to balance them spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically. If one doesn’t deal with an issue on a spiritual, emotional or mental level, the issue will present itself in a physical form. An example of a physical imbalance is low or high blood pressure. This can indicate the need for self-acceptance, love and nurturing.

Emotional faculties

According to scientific research, our gut is linked to our brain via our vagus nerve. While you are developing in your mother’s womb, the fluid that develops in your brain is the same fluid that develops in your intestines. Did you know that almost 80% of our immune system can be found in this area? Our stomach has become well known as our emotional brain or our second brain. Think of the feeling of having butterflies in your tummy when you are in love or anxious before an exam.

Looking at the horse, you can see how large his intestinal tract is – a huge emotional centre. The intestines can be up to 22m long. I believe this huge belly area is why horses make such great therapists. The vagus nerve forms part of the horse’s parasympathetic nervous system. Their emotional centre is the largest part of their body. For this reason, every horse owner dreads colic. Colic affects the digestive tract of a horse. This is a very sacred, pedantic part of the horse, often overlooked. Horses can display the following behaviour when they are not in balance: fear, fighting, freezing and fleeing. By working with the parasympathetic nervous system, we can change the horse into a balanced, thinking horse. This can be further enhanced by working with the horse’s endocrine system to release oxytocin (the trust and love hormone).

According to Linda Kohanov in her book, The Tao of Equus, horses don’t have a neocortex brain. This is the emotional portion of our brain where judgment takes place. Horses can’t judge a person on first impressions. They won’t know if the person is good or bad.

Finding purpose

Oppistal strives to find out what a horse’s purpose is and to utilise him in that area

It’s important for humans to take note that horses also have a purpose in life. If you don’t allow them to act in their preferred role, they can be mistaken for being ‘difficult’. Imagine yourself working in an environment day in and day out that makes you unhappy. On the other hand, if you love what you do, you will be energetic and happy. Oppistal strives to find out what a horse’s role is and to utilise him in that area. It’s important for us to keep horses in a natural environment, allowing mutual grooming and roaming. Our herd at Oppistal consists of 32 horses, which includes foals, mares and geldings.

If you are an equine enthusiast you will understand the term ‘pair-up’. For me, ‘join-up’ became ‘pair-up’ in the lunge ring. I have discovered that you can get so much further if you are a horse listener instead of a horse whisperer. Upon arrival at our yard, I do a natural oil selection with the horses and a pair-up in the lunge ring to get to know each horse. Horses will always whisper who they are: it’s for humans to listen.

Humans are created with chromosomes and a genetic blueprint, seeking their true purpose in their lifetime. I strongly believe that horses have a chosen path and a role to play. Horses can prefer to be healers, therapy horses, performance horses, school ponies or show horses. A show horse won’t love to be a school pony or to do therapy work, but give him a show ring and he’ll excel. Put a disabled rider on a therapy horse and see what change occurs in both horse and rider during one session.

The questions may arise: how do I know what role my horse wants to play? How do I know in myself what is out of balance?

The full article appears in the September issue (126) of HQ > Shop now