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Why & How

Many women who have gone through radiation and chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer have ongoing issues to deal with, like these:

• Need for physical and emotional revitalization.
• Impaired vital functions, like digestion, respiration (shallow breathing) and rapid heart rate.
• Self image impacted by surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
• Tactile defensiveness: not enjoying touch or being touched.
• A need to reconnect to her body and to other people.
• Physical weakness.
• Threat of cancer recurrence within 5 years.
•  Impaired intuitive sense of how to enhance her own well-being.



Here is how Riding Beyond helps. Activities are designed and conducted by a PATH International certified therapeutic riding instructor and certified equine specialist.

photo by Galen Miller

The act of touching a beautiful, calm, and sensitive large animal like a horse who responds with sighs and other signs of enjoyment opens participants to the wonder and power of touch in a non-threatening and potent environment. This experience is an important first step in Riding Beyond.

Lying on the back of a horse for 60 seconds or longer, face-down on the horse’s rump, activates the part of the vagus nerve which runs along the front of the body.  Several things occur with this exercise.  There is a gentle compression of the diaphragm and lungs.  There is an energetic connection between the horse’s body and the woman’s body so that respiration and heart rate entrain with the slower rates of the horse.  Similar effects are accomplished by leaning into the horse. This effect has been measured in scientific research:

Recent studies conducted by the Institute of HeartMath provide a clue to explain the bidirectional “healing” that happens when we are near horses. According to researchers, the heart has a larger electromagnetic field and higher level of intelligence than the brain: A magnetometer can measure the heart’s energy field radiating up to 8 to 10 feet around the human body. While this is certainly significant it is perhaps more impressive that the electromagnetic field projected by the horse’s heart is five times larger than the human one (imagine a sphere-shaped field that completely surrounds you). The horse’s electromagnetic field is also stronger than ours and can actually directly influence our own heart rhythm.

“Horses are also likely to have what science has identified as a “coherent” heart rhythm (heart rate pattern) which explains why we may “feel better” when we are around them. . . .studies have found that a coherent heart pattern or HRV is a robust measure of well-being and consistent with emotional states of calm and joy – that is, we exhibit such patterns when we feel positive emotions.

“A coherent heart pattern is indicative of a system that can recover and adjust to stressful situations very efficiently. Often times, we only need to be in a horse’s presence to feel a sense of wellness and peace. In fact, research shows that people experience many physiological benefits while interacting with horses, including lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased levels of beta-endorphins (neurotransmitters that serve as pain suppressors), decreased stress levels, reduced feelings of anger, hostility, tension and anxiety, improved social functioning; and increased feelings of empowerment, trust, patience and self-efficacy.”

Often upon rising up from the prone position, a woman is able to take a deep, abdominal breath for the first time in months. Measurements of heart rate before and after this exercise show measurable improvements in both heart rate and oxygen levels in the blood.

Since the vagus nerve controls the autonomic nervous system, improvements in digestion and other functions are benefitted, as well.

Photos by Galen Miller

Participants practice on a specially constructed barrel horse in preparation for later activities on the horse’s back.

Photo by Cornelius Matteo

Initially, participants walk side by side with the horse and then in later sessions on the back of the horse, in synchrony with inspiring music.  This promotes a deep level of relaxation and reconnection with the horse and the others walking along.  There is often an experience of ecstasy that goes beyond words.

Exercises develop the use of the imagination, and more, the imaginal body or the muscular imagination, to vividly focus and to align themselves with their higher purpose.  These exercises take advantage of neural plasticity and make available to the participant parts of their brains previously untapped.

A fundamental purpose of Riding Beyond is to explore the threads of the larger patterns of our lives, reconfiguring one’s challenges in the context of a larger destiny.  This is accomplished through fictional and true life story telling, creative word play and reading of poetry and other relevant inspirational passages.

Photo by Cornelius Matteo

Riding a horse at a walk and responding to the complex movement, which is side to side, back and forth and rotational, stimulates nerves and muscles to increase strength and improve balance and proprioception.

Photo by Cornelius Matteo

One of the most powerful experiences for all involved is the bonding between the horse and the people, participants and volunteers alike. Riding Beyond is full of heart-opening moments. As one participant remarked with wonder: “I discovered I was in for a profound healing of the heart.”

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