Psychological health

An Equine Model for Human Anxiety

A worried horse is doing its best.

Source: Violeta Pencheva / Unsplash

With the brains of prey, horses are primarily governed by fear. The external stimulus enters their brain through one of the senses and is immediately transmitted to the motor cortex for immediate reaction. There is no neural pathway or prefrontal cortex to assess the event. why? Because evolution depends on survival, and it takes a long time to assess the danger that might eat you at dinner.

To survive, the horse had to flee from potential predators on the spot. There was no time to stand and wonder what to do. And anything — movement in a few blades of grass, the sudden sound of a twig, scent particles in the breeze — could indicate potential danger. In other words, almost every catalyst is dangerous, especially those that are new or unknown.

Exaggeration of risks in the environment

If this sounds familiar, it is because human anxiety produces the same behaviour. Whether due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks, social anxiety, or phobias, our brains become sensitive to potential dangers in the environment. Then they are prepared to overreact in ways that lead to behavior that impairs normal daily life.

Those of us who train horses deal with horse concerns every day. Much of our work involves teaching the horse to delay its natural reaction to potential hazards for a second or two – just long enough to record our directions and directions. If we humans seem nervous about an event, the horse will be nervous, too. But when we respond to such events calmly, over time the horse learns to do the same.

Horses as models of human anxiety

It may seem strange to think of horses as models of any human emotion. But, indeed, horses are being used as research models for human depression. Equine anxiety is more prominent than equine depression, so it makes sense to learn something about treating human anxiety by studying horse trainers’ “treatment” for equine anxiety.

So, how do we calm a scared horse? In general, we do the following:

  • Anticipate events likely to cause fear.
  • Recognize the signs of anxiety.
  • Provide direct guidance and support.
  • Respond with calm physical and mental.
  • Bonus for late reactions.
  • Use consistency to produce predictability.
  • Use predictability to provide a sense of control.
  • A reward for calm.
  • Apply the process repeatedly for many different events.
  • Continue to teach calm about potential dangers over the years.

Each of these steps can be performed as easily with humans as it is with horses. Our fears tend to be more complex, but cause the same flying, fighting, or freezing behaviors. They respond to the same types of training. There are specific techniques for each step in the list.

Some of the problems we have in treating human anxiety with horses also emerge: It encourages people with anxiety to move on too quickly; They do not recognize early signs of impending fear; They provide indirect or implicit instructions rather than planning the process step by step. Instead of rewarding him, they ignore quiet demeanor. They know in very large increments. They severely underestimate the number of anxiety-reduction lessons necessary for long-term success.

Horses have a lot to teach psychologists. Reducing anxiety is a good place to start.

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