Benefits Of Equine Therapy: Healing And Learning From Horses

by Penny Boreham


Bronwen and Jo Corfield

Bronwen and Jo Corfield

Khiron House has a new partner, Jo Corfield’s Hopethruhorses, which is an established equine involvement facility in Oxfordshire.

Residents at our Khiron House Clinic have been going and receiving benefits of equine therapy with Jo and her natural herd of eighteen horses during their stay with us.

‘Hopethruhorses’ is something of an unusual equine therapy centre for the United Kingdom as the therapy it offers is grounded in the process of being with, and learning from, horses rather than using horses in any way. This style of equine therapy is more common in the United States.

Jo is a qualified therapist, who has made an extensive study of horse and human psychology and the therapeutic potential of horses.

The Stillness Of Horses

The work Jo Corfield does through “Hopethruhorses” is about drawing people into the quiet presence of the horses.

As Jo explains:-

“The horses really know when they are having to help someone and they go very, very still. It’s fascinating to watch people being drawn into that quietness. The horses bring us back into our own body and whole system and then into a state of balance. However, people have to be open to it,and I find I need to concentrate on getting humans to the point where they are ready to receive”.

A Magnificent And Generous Beating Heart

I was lucky enough to meet Jo, amongst this natural herd, last week. I was therefore able to witness, at first hand, how she subtly and skilfully guided me in my interaction with the horses, so that I then began to notice the horses themselves in more detail, how they responded to me and how I felt to be with them.

It wasn’t long before I had my head resting on one large and beautiful horse’s neck and was being gently guided, by Jo, to feel this horse’s magnificent and generous beating heart – with two hands carefully placed (again guided by Jo) on her chest.

Jo also drew my attention to the fact that none of this would have happened without this particular horse generously letting me, and inviting me, to make contact with her and I felt privileged. I watched this horse companion as she watched me, and her presence was still and I saw her eyes change and soften as I became more relaxed with her.

Being ‘In The Moment’ With The Horses

Jo explained to me that equine involvement is about allowing people to experience and feel themselves in the moment and in so doing they naturally become more mindful.

I saw that Jo does not do this in a “what do you feel now” kind of way but she guides you to notice what is ‘coming up’ for you when you are around the horses and helps you to make connections – both a connection with the horse, itself, and with memories and associations that come to mind.

A Gift From The Horses

As Jo points out, the horses are never forced to be with us. Contact with them is a gift from them, and Jo encourages people to look at what the horses are themselves valuing in us. People may not see their own value, but the horses help us to ‘feel’ what they are aware of in us, at a soul level.

Jo explains:-

“It is simple, it is about releasing the fear when it comes, the horses are receiving so much from you and for you. We keep it simple, we are bringing light into the darkness” – and as she says of herself – “I am the best evidence of how this works”

“I Am The Best Evidence Of How This Works”

Jo, herself, struggled with a severe eating disorder, suffering from anorexia and bulimia, and this began when she was 14 years old, and lasted for thirty years. When she was younger Jo had been in and out of psychiatric hospital, which had not helped her with the disorder.

Fifteen years ago she found herself in a place where she was ‘surviving’ but with real difficulty. She had become very disillusioned as nothing she had tried to help her eating disorder had ever helped, even remotely – she was severely bulimic and fearful.

But it was then, fifteen years ago, that her ten year old son persuaded her that he needed to put an advert in the local shop for a pony, this was to be his future – a career with horses!

He got a reply from an elderly lady who at the time owned Gus, a ginger pony, and Gus became his pony. However, Jo’s son began to lose interest in the pony and Jo found herself solely responsible for him. Horses were a mystery to her at the time, and she was actually fearful of them. But she knew she had to look after Gus’ needs.

Bronwen – The Healer

“We got a Welsh horse, Bronwen, as a companion for Gus. I had no knowledge of horses, I couldn’t ride, I was actually very afraid of horses, but at the time I was, of course, very afraid of everything. When I got Bronwen I had very poor self esteem, I was actually a wreck. But, thankfully, I had this deep rooted feeling that I wanted a proper relationship with this horse. I saw people with their horses, pulling at their mouths, the horses always had their heads high and their eyes were bulging, the riders were kicking them to go forward and I knew I didn’t want that”.

Bronwen Was To Show Jo The Way Forward

“Bronwen was such a perfect horse, she was so giving and kind, but we had all kinds of problems. She wouldn’t go out on the road, she would spin round. But, thank goodness, I knew the problem was me, not her, and that was my saving grace, really. I could do something about that”.

Jo then found a horse whisperer and he began to teach her how to communicate with Bronwen:-

“All she could see, bless her lovely heart, was fear, and for a horse that is about as far away from a leader as you can get. She used to bolt to the other side of the field when she saw me. The horse whisperer taught me to see how she was seeing me and learn to read what she was feeding back about me”.

Bronwen taught Jo about the fear at the heart of her eating disorder.

“I began to let go of the fear and unfold each bit of fear as it arose. Bronwen would actually reward me with that utter softness. She was thanking me for getting it right. Her heart was open, she forgave me for being incompetent. She was constantly encouraging me. She was magic”.

A Whole New Direction

Bronwen and Gus marked the beginning of a whole new direction for Jo, and she started to acquire more horses. She remembers vividly how, at the end of the first five years of this new interest in horses, a horse whisperer who came to help Jo trim the horses feet made a comment that marked a true turning point :-

“I hadn’t consciously realised I was getting so much better, myself. It had been gradual. Then this person, a horse whisperer, who was helping me, who was someone who was good with both horses and humans, said to me – ‘Jo, what a difference there is with these horses, they are so calm and relaxed, before there was stress and anxiety around here but now they are calm’ – and then, suddenly, it dawned on me – I am no longer afraid”.

Next week, in the next blog, we hear more about some of the clients who have benefited from working with Jo Corfield and her natural herd of horses at her Equine Involvement Facility, ‘Hopethruhorses’  and also about her hopes for the future of the facility.

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