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Psychotherapy & Learning EFP/L 
January 2010
In this Issue
The Brain That Changes Itself
Alex & Me
Nickers from Matney Cook
How EFL Benefits Horsemanship & Riding
Mares of the Night
New Workshops
for 2010

The Horse-Human Connection:
Chehalis, WA
  March 19-21

Finding Freedom:
HEAL Personal Growth Intensive
Chehalis, WA
  April 10-11

HEAL Facilitator Training Program 2010
Now accepting applications
Space is limited

Leigh Shambo, LMHC & David Young:
Offerings in Bishop, CA
November 2009 thru mid-February 2010

Private Sessions Available
Contact HEAL for more information

HEAL Schedule
on our

check it out for the latest events

Greetings to our readers!

Welcome to the January HEAL Newsletter!  A new month and a new year!

Life doesn't always dish out what you expect, does it?  My husband David and I traveled here to Bishop, California, for the winter, planning to enjoy lots of long-distance mountain trail riding with our equine buddies, Beau and Dixsi.  But medical issues for David changed our plans, when it became clear that he should go ahead immediately with major heart surgery. Of course, horse riding is NOT one of his recommended recovery activities.

Happily, we are also very content to play and learn with our horses from the ground.  This month's good reads will help you understand why.  Animal intelligence is fascinating, even more so when the heart connection motivates two beings to find each other by bridging the language gap.  Language is made not only from vocalizations, but also from feelings, subtle movement, physical nuances such as breath and posture, and from attention itself. 
By paying attention, we find ways to cross the communication bridge to find each other.  It's a delight, and it's healing... good for body, mind and soul.  Our articles this month highlight this process, so central to EFP/L. 
Meet Matney Cook, a HEAL Facilitator Training graduate, who explains how EFL enhances the equine experience for her riding students.  Book reviews introduce you to Alex the Parrot, a pioneer in animal-human communication; and to Norman Doidge writing about how new experiences literally change our neural tissue and thus our lives.  To top it off, a poem by Becky Picton, whose experiences with horses have led her into a new vocation to help promote sustainable equine environments.

Would you like to share your EFP/L journey with our readers?
  Remember that we love to hear from you and welcome your comments, suggestions and stories to share with all of our readers.  Please send them to us at [email protected]equinealliance.org.

In celebration of this rich and dynamic universe we live in,

Leigh Shambo, MSW, LMHC
Human-Equine Alliances for Learning (HEAL)
e-mail Leigh

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Read more about... 
Human-Equine Alliances for Learning (HEAL)

Matney Cook & TLC Training and Horsemanship

Rebecca Picton & The Opal Horse

The Institute of HeartMath

Videos to watch... 

Alex and Me

Dr. Norman Doidge on the Brain and Neuroplasticity

Good Reads...

The Brain that Changes Itself:
Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

by Norman Doidge, M.D.

Alex and Me:
How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process

by Irene Pepperberg

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The Brain That Changes Itself:
Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science
by Norman Doidge, M.D.
(2007)  Penguin Books

Review by Leigh Shambo

The Brain that Changes ItselfScientists used to believe that the brain was relatively fixed and unchanging - some of them still believe that - but recent research shows that the brain is much more mutable than biologists, psychologists, physicians (and any other scientists who studied brains) had ever thought.  The last three decades constitute a revolution in our understanding of neural tissue, as increasingly sophisticated research has revealed its inherent "plasiticity" - meaning "changeable, malleable, modifiable".  Doidge states, "At first many of the scientists didn't dare to use the word 'neuroplasticity' in their publications, and their peers belittled them for promoting a fanciful notion.  Yet they persisted, slowly overturning the doctrine of the unchanging brain.  They showed that children are not always stuck with the mental abilities they are born with; that the damaged brain can often reorganize itself so that when one part fails, another can substitute; that if brain cells die, they can at times be replaced; that many 'circuits' and even basic reflexes that we thought were hardwired, are not."

Illustrated with fascinating case histories, this book details the amazing progress made with all kinds of brain disorders previously thought to be virtually incurable, and provides the reader with an understanding of the brain's ability to heal, change  and modify itself.  It also touches on the darker side of brain plasticity-the tendency of the brain to become more and more set in certain pathways over time.  From childhood developmental abnormalities, to accidents, injuries and strokes, to normal aging and to the habits and conditioning we acquire over a lifetime; this book is hopeful, encouraging and empowering.

EFP/L literally helps participants experience relationship in novel ways, and this book helps us understand how new experiences can literally change the brain (the book even touches on how the brain is changed by the psychotherapy experience).  Like faulty computer programs, unresolved history tends to repeat itself with unconscious responses and defenses to other humans.  Patterns become more and more fixed as they are repeated. This is where a horse comes in. These large, inscrutable partners command our respect, yet we can absolutely trust their honesty and non-judgment.  With a horse, a person might experience a safe, authentic and mutually appreciative relationship in a way that leaves a novel impression.  With ongoing practice, this fragile pathway can be strengthened and reinforced.  The Brain That Changes Itself will help you understand this and much more about the body's most amazing organ.

click here for lecture by Dr. Doidge

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Alex and Me:
How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence - and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process
by Irene Pepperberg
(2008) Harper Publishing

Review by Leigh Shambo

Alex & MeAlex & Me is a fascinating and poignant memoir sure to touch the hearts and minds of all animal lovers.  Author Irene Pepperberg is a research scientist widely recognized for her studies with African Grey Parrots, and Alex, her best known research subject.  In this moving account, she describes him most often as her colleague, and this personal account is a testament to the deep relationship formed over the span of 30 years of work together.  A died-in-the-wool scientist, Pepperberg avoided personalizing their relationship, and her commitment to stringent objectivity, in fact, helped Alex work a profound change in the scientific study of animal intelligence.  In the end, however, Alex's unexpected and untimely death frees Pepperberg to open her human heart and tell us about the profound impact that this unusual relationship had on her personally.
Pepperberg writes, "Scientifically speaking, the single greatest lesson Alex taught me, taught all of us, is that animal minds are a great deal more like human minds than the vast majority of behavioral scientists believed - or more importantly were even prepared to concede might be remotely possible.  Now, I am not saying that animals are miniature humans...  Yet animals are far more than the mindless automatons that mainstream science held them to be for so long.  Alex taught us how little we know about animal minds and how much more there is to discover...  [with] profound implications, philosophically, sociologically, and practically."  All of us who work on the bridge between animals and humans, who know that animal consciousness has so much to teach and to heal in the human heart, should read this book. 

P.S. Have your tissue box nearby.

click here for Alex and Me on YouTube

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Nickers from Matney Cook
2009 HEAL Facilitator Training Program Graduate

After a childhood filled with 4-H competition, at the age of 20 Matney changed her outlook on working with horses from, "What can I get out of this horse?" to "How can I help this horse be understood?" With that shift she has come to many realizations including how deeply involved horses are with her personal and spiritual growth and healing.  With the intent of further honoring the horse, most recently Matney graduated from the HEAL Facilitator Training Program 2009.  She is very excited about how EFL has revolutionized her coaching methods for both horse and human, blending her training experience with a deeper knowing and awareness.

For the past four years she has worked side by side with her mother Terri Cook (who introduced her to natural horsemanship through Ken McNabb) training horses and giving lessons under the name of TLC Training. They currently work out of Russlin' Pines stables in Stanwood, Washington.  Along the way Matney has made many friends and helped numerous people mend broken relationships with their equine partners.

click here for more about TLC Training and Horsemanship

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How Equine-Facilitated Learning (EFL) Benefits Horsemanship and Riding
by Matney Cook

On a crisp winter day not long ago, I decided to have a playful groundwork session with my horse partner, a bay gelding named Mike.  After doing a scan of my own body and setting an intention for the  day, I took another moment to check in with Mike, concerned that in my excitement to play with him I may  have overlooked what would bring him joy during the session.Matney & Mike

He answered me, "If you listen to your heart when we are together, you will also hear mine."
I have found that this is the simple truth at the core of how and why Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL)  supports whatever activity you may dream of exploring with your horse.  For when we practice  authenticity with ourselves, we become true to everyone else in our presence whether they have two legs  or four.

Mike's wise statement made perfect sense to me.  You may have read that the Institute of HeartMath  (www.heartmath.org) has shown that the electromagnetic field produced by the heart is stronger than that  produced by the brain and extends well outside of the body.  If you've experienced any of Leigh's EFL  teachings, you have probably felt how the energetic "bubble" surrounding each of us carries information  about our autonomic state of arousal which includes heart rate, respiratory rate, emotional state,  and/or our heart's desire within its vibrations.  Our energy fields are constantly interacting with the  energy fields of others - human, animal, or even plant - giving and receiving information.  A horse  cannot communicate verbally, so they are completely reliant on keen awareness of this invisible form of  communication.  Because humans have developed the neo-cortex portion of the brain (the logical  "thinking" center) far beyond the levels of other mammals, most people have learned to rely on verbal  communication as their sole form of expression even though they also interact on these nonverbal levels  (often with no awareness).

This explains why being energetically incongruent (acting contradictory to what you're feeling) can lead  to miscommunications between you and your horse.  Your energetic presence is saying one thing and your  actions are demanding another.  I've seen many horses trot for hours instead of breaking into a lope  even though that's what their rider is being coached to do and seems to be trying to achieve.  Some  horses may even buck once into a lope if their rider is unconsciously communicating fear to them.   Actions such as bucking are most often caused by pain or fear on the horse's part.  Therefore, once you  understand the nature of shared emotions, you can see how acknowledging and honoring your feelings  becomes a safety issue when working with horses.

In coaching people and their horses through activities from round penning to trail riding, safety  has always been my main focus.  This is why I pursued a Master Trainer certification in Natural  Horsemanship under Ken McNabb.  In my heart, I  knew that you could ask a horse to engage in an activity  with you instead of using pain or fear to force  them into it.   One of the principles of many natural horsemanship trainers is that "pain is a deterrent  to the learning process."  Now that we know that horses feel all the same emotions that humans do, this  teaching makes even more sense.  After earning the Master Trainer certification and spending 17 years of  my 21 being with horses, I was confident teaching horses to do many things, and yet I felt ill-equipped  to help their owners learn to do these things with their horses. I could teach people the linear  progression of the exercises and explain how they are meant to work, but how did I teach them to feel  the softness I was always talking about?  I believe that this is where a lot of horsemanship teachings  fall short: all of the focus is on the horse!


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Mares of the Night
a poem by Rebecca Picton

As I slept under the full moon, the 'night mares' came,
Galloping, whirling, in and out of shadow.
A rare and welcome visit; I must awaken enough to listen!
They are generous with their insights and wisdom.
They guide my thoughts deeply into the questions of past days, weeks, even years.
Ah, yes.  Now I see.
Not all are answers; some are more questions.
The sky lightens with dawn and I arise to scribble down what I can remember,
Before it all fades in the distance, like the mares.
'I am touched and humbled by your visit.  Thank you!'
Galloping, whirling, away, into the shadows...

Rebecca Picton writes about Sustainable Equine Enterprise on her site, The Opal Horse.  She decribes the site this way:  "I am a commitment to raising awareness of sustainability principles and practices in the equine world.  I envision the possibility of all equine (horse, donkey, mule) facilities and businesses being sustainable."

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howHow Equine-Facilitated Learning (EFL) Benefits Horsemanship and Riding (cont.)
by Matney Cook

You can learn exercises designed to help you teach your horse how to be more responsive, more  respectful, more calm - but what about your own ability to do these things?  To me, this is the role of  EFL in horsemanship.  It lays a strong foundation in emotional and energetic awareness onto which the  structure of horsemanship can be built as a place where all the activities you dream of doing with your  horse can become a reality.

Matney & FriendThrough EFL, you become aware of the equine's ability to feel the full range of emotion without judgment  and that their reliance on their limbic system (the brain's center of emotion & intuition) serves them  perhaps far better than those who would have us believe that horses are "just dumb animals."  Horses  will offer us information about many things including their physical health, their current living  situation right down to how they feel about the tack you use.  We cannot expect our horses to be  prepared to join us fully in an activity if their basic emotional, mental, and physical needs aren't  being met.  Understanding this allows us to view a horse's "misbehavior" as information instead of as a  situation that merely requires more training.  But also know that as you learn to perceive things before  the horse has to turn up the intensity on his emotions, you will avoid much of that "misbehavior."   Think about your own emotions and what your unresolved feelings do within your own body.  The horse  mirrors what we experience - unacknowledged emotion typically results in escalating behavior.

Once you begin to journey inward using the teachings that EFL provides, the mirror is held up to all of  your actions and how they affect others around you.  For if your desire is to deepen your connection  with your horse, you must first deepen your connection with yourself.  And, through true connection,  communication is effortless, making any activity much more enjoyable.  Isn't this what we're searching  for when we ask a trainer to help us through an "issue" with our equine partner?

How does the deeper connection with self come about?  EFL teaches various experiential exercises that  "bring home" the concepts of emotional and physical awareness allowing you to become aware of your own  emotions and the information conveyed through physical sensation. You begin to explore how your body  reacts to different situations - simply bringing your sensations into your conscious awareness and using  them as information.  This activity alone will deepen your self-connection and will extend to your  connection with your horse simultaneously.  Of course, as you become more aware of this non-verbal  experience you may have many other questions, and this is where your trained facilitator can act as your  guide, teaching you about reuniting your divided self, and the messages behind your emotions just to  name a couple.  

And, as a trainer who has been taught by many trainers I have seen that those who can handle any horse  with confidence are those who can get a "feeling" of the horse, not asking too much too soon while also  setting boundaries to keep both the horse and themselves safe.  Often times the best advice a trainer  can give you on deepening your feel is repetitious practice of an exercise.  Practice has its positive  aspects, but when coupled with a deeper awareness of sensation in the body, of the non-verbal  communication, much of the frustration on both the horse and rider's part can be eliminated.

Here's an example of my own experience shortly after I attended a 3-day workshop with Leigh.  I used to  run into an issue consistently with my horse, Mike, while riding him around the pasture.  Even after my  careful warm ups and best attempts at establishing a connection, he always seemed to want to go to the  barn.  I got tired of using my bridle and leg pressure to keep him from ducking into a stall, so one day  when my frustration was no longer deniable, I literally collapsed on his back in a heap, sobbing.  "What  have I done wrong?  After all of the work I'd done with this horse, he still would rather be in the barn  than be with me.  I'm a trainer for goodness sake, and my own horse doesn't want to be with me!"

After cleansing my psyche with a good cry and noticing that during this "meltdown" that Mike did not  attempt to go to the barn, a new awareness began to grow within me.  I asked myself, "Do I really  believe all those things I was so frustrated about?"  My heart's answer was, "No."  After noticing  Mike's willingness to sit with me during my breakdown, I also had a new-found confidence in him and in  our relationship.  So, I decided to walk him by the barn with a new outlook on the situation, a  curiosity - seeing it as an opportunity to discover a place within my methods that was contradictory to  what I wanted.

To my surprise, I noticed myself stiffening up while riding by the barn in anticipation of my horse's  attempts to get to his stall.  No wonder he was looking for a place of comfort to go to when my body's  stiffness and my raised heart rate were communicating to him, "Something is wrong here, and my way of  dealing with it is being rigid."  Of course, this is not at all what I intended to tell him, and neither  is it a leadership style that a horse (let alone any human) trusts, so I kept riding while breathing  deeply to consciously lower my heart rate.  By the end of the ride, he was no longer speeding up when  facing the direction of the barn nor going through his shoulder when I turned him away from the barn.  I  had solved a horsemanship issue simply by noticing where the fault in the communication was, and  consciously deciding to change it.  All because Mike had pointed out to me some "tornado heads" that  needed dispelling and how those negative thoughts were unconsciously affecting my communication with  him.  After those realizations I remember being on cloud nine for the rest of the day!  For it truly is  a joyful feeling to be so connected with another being and yourself in authenticity.

Looking back on the situation now, I also realize the contradiction between how viewing the issue  strictly from a "training standpoint" would have urged me to act as opposed to searching internally for  the answer.  As a trainer, I may have coached someone through doing an exercise to seemingly "fix" the  horse's "misbehavior."  Whereas, the true solution was found by me doing nothing other than listening to  my emotions and awakening my non-verbal awareness of what my body was communicating, in turn honoring my  horse's and my own body's wisdom.   

I have found that sitting with ourselves, other people, or horses at these times in a place of non-judgment allows us to activate our Authentic Self.   Kathleen Barry Ingram refers to this as "the place where your own self healing emerges and you reclaim and embrace  yourself."  Once your intention is expanded to include the goal of honoring this place of intuition and  power in your relationship with your horse, your path toward the horsemanship activity you choose will  become clear in the light of your new-found awareness.  You will find that your horse will always be  authentic with you, acting as a living, breathing feedback device by pointing out your incongruent  behavior, and rewarding your congruency with their cooperation.

I feel EFL teachings have brought me back to a playful open space within myself, amazed by the beauty  and majesty of my horse.  There is no judgment there, just a supportive, loving animal whose nature  (just like mine) is to build a relationship through which we can experience the world together from a  childlike awe-filled peace.  Once opened to the "beginner's mind" way of experiencing horses that EFL  teaches, it is no surprise that the journey toward any horsemanship goal becomes a multi-faceted,  multi-dimensional experience.  Using what your local facilitator enables you to learn, your horse can  help you to go places within yourself you never imagined possible while completing the simplest or most  complex of tasks.  The most exciting and empowering part is that you will be awakened to the fact that  the two beings who know what's best for you and your horse are only you and your horse.  I will leave  you with a reminder of Mike's wise message to me:  "If you listen to your heart when we are together,  you will also hear mine."

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