Silke Ritthaler: Our equine-assisted therapy is conceptually designed to restore the psyche, or soul, to a healthy state. A horse always reacts to the authentic personality traits of a person, i.e. those with which he is born and not to the acquired ones that have arisen from experience.
Suppose someone is born a humorous person and is constantly told, "I find your laughter annoying," that person would become increasingly serious in order to belong. He would develop behavior patterns that do not belong to him. The person forgets that he has a sense of humor, feels uncomfortable in his skin, but doesn't even know what the problem is. This could sooner or later turn into depression.
Together with the day clinic I work with, we have developed a very good concept over the years. Through the body language of the human being and the mirror language of the horse, we support people in entering into self-knowledge processes. We focus on the authentic and healthy parts of the personality. We address these specifically in exercises, in which the person concerned is then allowed to act out of his or her healthy personality traits. We address intuition, self-esteem and self-care. We try to find out which strengths are there and perhaps have been forgotten.
How does personality affect body language?
Silke Ritthaler: A personality that bends for the environment to get recognition also has a shifted body language on the horse. I correct this shifted body language and consciously guide it into a body language as it is in a psychologically healthy person.
I center the body axis and the body center of gravity in the movement process. From this centering process, one can then see by means of movement sequences whether the person is actually taking up his or her space or not. If these are quite minimal, then we start to work on them and find out what the person's authentic space is. Through this, we then find out why the person has become so serious and depressed.
What can horses do that humans can't?
Silke Ritthaler: Horses depend on moving in a large herd. As soon as even one animal in the herd becomes unsteady, this can mean danger to their lives. Horses observe very carefully. They can clearly differentiate whether someone is in an authentic movement process or not.
Let's stay with the example of the humorous person. This person starts to pretend and perhaps also to go a bit into a self-limitation. This is clearly noticeable in body language. The horses then go into a mirror behavior and start to clown around, for example. This is how I recognize that the horses are saying, "Now be humorous again!"
There are also therapy dogs, for example. Why did you decide to work with horses?
Silke Ritthaler: I deliberately chose horses because, on the one hand, they have the serving character of dogs and, on the other hand, they have retained an independence that we know from cats. With horses, you can simply combine the advantages of different animal species and that is what fits so well here.
How does coaching work?
Silke Ritthaler: I usually have a telephone conversation with the people beforehand to get to know them a bit and to find out what's on their mind and whether I can help them at all. Because whoever comes here must also have the willingness to confront and develop themselves.
If someone is afraid of horses, I take away their fear in advance by explaining in great detail how things will work here and what will happen.
I work with the guest for two hours a day. But I always keep four hours free. Because it can always happen that we get into a process and the two hours are not enough. I want to make sure that we can complete the process and the guests don't have to go off in an agitated state and not understand what's happening to them.
In the first two hours, I first take stock of the situation. I listen to what they perceive themselves and then I look at what the soul is actually expressing through body language. What do I perceive myself? What does the horse perceive? In this phase I work with mini ponies. When I have completed the process of taking stock, I begin to correct the first body language imbalances and we then continue this on the large horse. Here we start to train mindfulness, self-awareness and also to pay attention to what is actually controlling you.
In the second part, I focus on addressing the healthy parts that have shown up quite strongly. Those affected now learn in various exercise situations to deal with the horse in a self-determined way and with self-confidence. I also include a lot of experiential elements, in which the horse always plays an accompanying role.
The good thing is that with this work we can also penetrate into depths and work on an emotional level. This is not always possible with classical therapy methods.
After the coaching sessions, I provide follow-up support by telephone. In this way, I help people to integrate the knowledge we have acquired here into their everyday lives.