Conflicting Emotions: What horses can teach us about finding leadership from within


In December, Axiom Equine utilized a grant to team up with the Vashon Youth and Family Services Latino Outreach Program to provide an unforgettable experience for five children ranging from 11 to 13 years old. The children spent six hours with the horses in an environment geared towards discovering personal strength and leadership from within. At first, the children were apprehensive of these large, intimidating creatures, however, by the end of their session, it was evident the children had built confidence and became more grounded in their sense of self. One child said “It was an amazing experience, and I encourage other people to try it. It was one of the few times I was truly happy”.

The environment of non-judgement created by the horses allowed the children’s walls of apprehension to fall so that they could truly be themselves. Reflecting upon the experience, one child said it was one of the best experiences of my life. “This is the happiest I’ve been all year. When we were given the assignment to write down our negative feelings about someone, I was having a really hard time, and then one of the horses reached around me from behind with its head and hugged me, and then I was able to do it.” Perhaps this is because of the energetic communication that happens between people and horses. Researchers at the HeartMath Institute are studying how the electromagnetic field emitted from a horse’s heart impacts humans. These studies indicate horses are sensitive to human emotions, which is could be why the horse chose to hug the child who was struggling with the assignment.

The women at Axiom Equine all agreed that the real time feedback provided by the horses when the children changed their energy allowed the kids to see firsthand how their actions and emotions impact others. The activities the group engaged in with the horses allowed the children to build a greater sense of leadership through deconstructing conflicting emotions. Melissa Pate, a founding partner of Axiom Equine spoke about her experience with the kids saying “Horses need a leader, and if you are asking them to do something and you’re conflicted, the horse can sense that, we help them (the kids) integrate the feeling of being afraid and the feeling they have support and help.”

The support the children felt from the horses was unlike anything they had experienced before. Adam Stone, a therapist at VYFS said “It was a joy to see the participants connect on such a deep level with the horses and each other; it was fun, healing, fascinating, beautiful, and, meaningful.” It is clear that these children will carry this experience with them and has greatly impacted how they now carry themselves. Holly Taylor, a partner at Axiom Equine said that through this experience, she was able to see a “greater self-esteem and a joyful sense of efficacy in relationship” within the children. Through this collaboration between VYFS and Axiom Equine, five island youth had the opportunity to find their voices as leaders, have a greater connection with the horses and within themselves, and to realize their place as active participants in our community.