Equine-assisted therapies, such as therapeutic riding and hippotherapy, have positive physical and emotional effects in individuals with a variety of conditions from multiple sclerosis, to autism, physical disabilities, neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s and more.
Today, as part of complementary therapy month, we wanted to talk about a special subset of equine assisted activities and therapies called the Equine Gestalt Coaching Method® (EGCM) and how people with Parkinson’s can benefit from it. (Gestalt means a unified whole that is more than the sum of its parts.)
According to the EGCM website, “The experiential nature of the method involves the horse as an active partner with the coach in the client’s exploratory process. The integrative approach of the equine’s interaction combined with positive coaching, somatic awareness, guidance and Gestalt methodology, assist the client in examining their life and choices made with a focus on designing a positive future.”
Horses have long been considered powerful healers. They have the power to offer us insight into ourselves, travel a path of confusion and uncertainty right alongside us and empower us to move forward as stronger and more resilient human beings no matter what challenges are thrown our way. They teach us humility, love, compassion, leadership and how to improve communication in every area of our lives.
And when it comes to Parkinson’s, horses provide what many have called a “magic” ability to make people with Parkinson’s feel stronger, more in control and more empowered to explore and overcome the challenge that a diagnosis like this can present.
We recently had a chance to speak with Lauren Munger, a certified Equine Gestalt Method Coach in the Boulder area. Lauren worked with children and adults for over 30 years as a counselor and workshop leader, and in 2011 she began adding horses to her work. Diagnosed with atypical Parkinsonism in 2015, and after using everything she’d learned about horses to help herself heal from the trauma of receiving the diagnosis and from symptoms that were progressing quite fast, Lauren decided to share this work with others who want to live well with Parkinson’s.
Here’s what Lauren had to say.
What inspired you to become certified in the Equine Gestalt Coaching Method® (EGCM)?
For decades I ran self-esteem workshops called A Hero’s Journey where participants discovered the hero inside. Later, with the addition of horses, the workshops became A Hero’s Journey with Horses. Little did I know I was about to embark on my very own Hero’s Journey.
While I enjoyed using horses in my work with children and adults, I wanted something more structured, a proven process that I could use over and over again with a variety of different clients. I also noticed that whenever I was with a horse, I couldn’t not feel my feelings and as a counselor, I could see a tremendous therapeutic value in that for anyone who worked with an equine healer.
Going through the training in the Touched by a Horse program to become a certified Equine Gestalt Method Coach in 2014 was divine providence because soon after that I started noticing changes in my body, balance, speech and thinking that was later diagnosed as atypical Parkinsonism. That diagnosis came as a huge shock and it knocked me off my center.
All my life I had been an avid skier, horseback rider and athlete and all of the sudden I was being betrayed by my body. I felt so alone and I lost my identity. I didn’t know who to talk to about it and as a result, my horse, and my work with other horses became my savior. I knew I could be myself with them and they would accept me as I was.
As a coach with a Gestalt lens, I was able to see my horse as my greatest ally in my battle with Parkinson’s. I couldn’t hide with him. He responded to every feeling I was having in each moment, and he was present with me all the time. My time with him made me feel empowered, and I took that feeling with me into the world outside the ring. Because of him, I was able to take back the reins on my life and instead of focusing on what I had lost and fretting about the future, I began to look at my Parkinson’s as a gift that I can use to help others. It was then that I decided to do something that would help me succeed because of my disease rather than in spite of it.
Horses have always been a huge part of my life, but I could never have predicted how critical they would become to my own health and healing.
What are the benefits of this type of coaching for someone with Parkinson’s?
The list of benefits people get from working with horses is long. The great thing about this work is that whatever you need in that moment, is what you will get. As an EGC, I don’t need to take a long history or even know anything about my clients before our first session together. The current moment is all we need to help guide your self-discovery.
With that said, here are just a few of the benefits you may experience from working with a horse. You’ll…
- Feel less alone
- Experience reduced social anxiety
- Feel calmer
- Gain insight into yourself
- Lower your blood pressure
- Balance your chakras
- Increase confidence
- Feel empowered
- Become a better leader and communicator
- Feel seen and accepted
- Accept and feel your feelings as they come
- Be able to stay in the present moment
- Feel physically grounded
- Increase your social support group
- Share what your disease process has been like with others on a similar path
And those are just the emotional benefits. Through my own work with horses and those who have similar challenges, working with horses can help with:
- And more...
What concerns or hesitations do people with Parkinson’s have before they join a course like this?
Because there are a lot of motor and non-motor symptoms that come with Parkinson’s, it’s not unusual for people to be hesitant to work with such big animals. Their top concerns usually have to do with being safe in the presence of a horse, navigating the uneven terrain that horses usually play on and just being afraid of the horse.
Horses are big and can be dangerous in the wrong hands; however, we teach “mindfulness” and the horses are also taught this. It comes down to mutual respect. So, if you work with a reputable trainer, there will be many policies and protocols in place to make sure you’re safe.
In my practice, I always have a group of very experienced handlers to help so that each client feels taken care of. I take care of the terrain so that it’s safe for people with canes or walkers and even wheelchairs. (If you’re going to try out working with horses, be sure to call ahead to get all of your questions about safety answered and to let them know if you’ll be coming with stability poles, a walker or a wheelchair.)
Horses live in the moment and don’t think about what might happen tomorrow or next month or next year. They won’t judge you because of how you walk or talk or look or think. They see your beautiful, authentic energy as someone to befriend. That’s because they see you with their Heart.
What should people expect to experience during EGCM sessions?
I encourage people not to have expectations and to come with an open heart and an open mind and receive what the horses offer. Horses don’t judge. They feel and see energy and because they are herd animals, they want to make a herd of two with those they work with. If a person doesn’t have an open heart or are stuck in their head, the horse will absolutely respond to that. If a person is not authentic, the horse will often just walk away. Still, there’s a powerful lesson in that as well.
If people with Parkinson’s are interested in learning more about this method, how can they do that?
If you live in the Boulder or Denver area, see below for information about an upcoming meet-up. If you live elsewhere, locate a certified Equine Gestalt Method Coach here or visit Touched by a Horse website. You can get a list of EGCM practitioners anywhere in the country there. You can also visit my website to learn more about me and equine Gestalt Therapy.
Learn more about equine gestalt coaching for people with Parkinson's
Equine coach Lauren Munger is hosting a meet-up about how equine coaching can help people with Parkinson’s live better today.
Date: Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Time: 10am - 12pm
Location: Acres of Opportunity Ranch - 4338 N. 109th Street, Lafayette, CO 80026
Fee: $5 (this fee is for the use of the horse)
Class limit: 12 people maximum
Open to: People with Parkinson's and their care partners
Register: RSVP with a valid email address to email@example.com