Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Science Of The Horse-Human Heart Connection

by Berenika Bratny, Wolne Konie

When did it happen for the first time? I don’t remember. Was it this moment, many years ago, when I went for a ride and in the middle of the forest started to sob because of my broken heart and suddenly Dukat stopped, lowered his head and stood there like enchanted. My heart was so broken (I don’t even remember his name now) that I noticed my horse’s reaction after a while.

Or maybe it was some other time, when I went for a walk in the meadows and suddenly Wincek came out of the bushes, approached me and after some time of playing with his tongue (asking me to pat his tongue is his favorite way of spending time with me), when I was tired of it and sat down in the grass, he placed himself very close to me and we snoozed together in the sun. Other horses came and went to the other pasture but he stayed there with me, his chin touching my head and we dreamt a dream of connection.

Or maybe it was when I met Alaska. When she came to me, let me scratch her for a while and then closed her eyes and started to breathe in my face. We stood like that for ages, the time stopped, I forgot everything and just felt blessed and loved. Yes, I think that was the moment I realized that there is something in them that makes me not only feel better on the rational side, but also that they have a strange influence on my perception of the world.

I recall one winter morning, first rays of sun, me standing near the fence and the horses around me taking a nap. Absolute stillness of the air, nothing moves. And I have this strange feeling and suddenly I realize — I feel that everything is the way it should be, everything is just perfect, I am and that is just enough — I’m in love with the world.

I still do it, now quite consciously — I heal myself in their presence. It is like going to a reiki master or some other chinese doctor, or maybe like going to a shaman. I don’t really know how it works, but after such a session I’m completely relaxed, happy and the headache is gone.

I tried to share this experience with others but found it beyond words and beyond my ability to express. And suddenly I stumble upon scientific facts that make my experience explainable! There is some mysterious device to measure heart rate variability called HRV. It reflects heart-brain reactions and is particularly sensitive to changes in emotional states. Positive and negative emotions can easily be distinguished by changes in these heart rhythm patterns. When a negative emotions such as sadness, fear, anger or frustration is experienced, heart rhythms become more erratic and imbalanced (incoherent). Positive emotions such as joy, appreciation and love produce ordered, balanced (coherent), heart rhythm patterns. So finally we can really check who is stressed or relaxed, when and for how long!

They make an experiment. They take a herd of 12 horses, put those mysterious HRV’s on them and check their results after 24 hours. And you know what? “The 24-hour reading provided another note of interest. During the 24-hour recording all the horses demonstrated very consisted HRV patterns, indicative of experiencing positive emotional states unless something fearful or threatening was introduced. Even then once the scary intruder (the Trash truck) left, HRV returned to a coherent pattern within a few minutes (…) Based on HRV research on stress in horses this meant the horses were primarily in a positive emotional state through the 24 hour reading.”

That was the first part. The second were the people who also wore HRV measuring device on them for 24 hours. What was the result? Of course quite the opposite. People experienced stress most of the time.

Here comes the best part. They paired people with horses and measured their HRV in the same time. The result showed that people were able to relax and change their HRV in the presence of the horse. “It appeared that each person synchronized his or her particular HRV frequency cycle to match the horse’s specific frequency cycle.”

So this is why we want their company so much, we feel a strong urge to be around them because, unconsciously, we feel they might help us with as much as our lives. They are our healers. The more stressed we are, the more we seek them. The fact that later most of us is devoured by riding, jumping, competing seems even more sad and cruel now. Cruel both to the horse, but also to the man, who went to the stable to seek help and found violence instead.

There is more. The Hearth Math Institute discovered a method called Heart Lock In. This is a kind of meditation of love as I understand it. By sending feelings of compassion, appreciation and love we influence our heart and brain patterns and we can change our HRV. The participants of the next experiment sat down in a pasture with horses and practiced Heart Lock in. Horses detected those feelings and approached to stay with them. They recognized those feelings as their own. What it means to us is that if we can project feelings of care and love toward a horse, the horse may detect those feelings and, in turn, may share them with us.

It means that horses like to be themselves, they appreciate the world as it is, they know what is really important, they live in the here and now. They love life. Isn’t that a dream of enlightenment? Or maybe the story of horse abuse is really the story of Kain and Abel — the story of jealousy. Maybe we envy them so much that we try to take it away from them? From this perspective the muzzle of the old tired ex-sport horse Dewajtis who lives with my herd is the face of an old Zen sage. We should be grateful when the sage accepts us as his pupils instead of trying to ride him.

There is one more thing. The horses that took part in the experiment “were primarily in a positive state throughout the 24-hour reading. This did not include any riding or human interaction other than normal feeding patterns.” Maybe someone will make a new experiment and check how the HRV of a stabled sport horse looks like. Maybe this way people will understand? When somebody talks about spiritual enlightenment it is easy to ridicule him and not take him for granted. But what if we face scientific facts?

You can read about this experiment in "The Horse-Human Connection, Results of Studies Using Heart Rate Variability" by Ellen Kaye Gehrke, PhD

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