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Calming Up: Polyvagal and Equine Psychotherapy for Regulation and Resilience

In the realm of psychotherapy, the combination of polyvagal theory and equine-assisted therapy has opened new doors for healing and personal growth. When incorporating the concept of "calming up," rather than focusing on calming down, individuals can reimagine their responses to stress and overwhelm. By organizing sympathetic energy and making small changes that move them towards regulation, individuals can harness the transformative power of polyvagal theory and equine therapy. In this article, we will explore how the "calm up" approach can be integrated into equine psychotherapy, allowing individuals to shift from overwhelming flood to energizing flow.

Understanding Polyvagal Theory:

Polyvagal theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, offers a framework for understanding the body's autonomic nervous system and its responses to stress and safety. It highlights three states: the sympathetic fight-or-flight response, the dorsal vagal shutdown response, and the ventral vagal state associated with safety and connection. By cultivating a ventral vagal state, individuals can promote regulation, resilience, and overall well-being.

Equine Psychotherapy: A Path to Regulation:

Equine-assisted therapy provides a unique opportunity to engage with horses as therapeutic partners. Horses possess a remarkable ability to sense and respond to human emotions, offering a mirror for individuals to explore their own state of regulation. Equine psychotherapy facilitates connection, self-awareness, and the development of new coping strategies, making it an ideal modality to integrate the concept of "calming up."

Shifting the Perspective: Calming Up Instead of Calming Down:

Traditionally, the focus in stress management has been on "calming down" or reducing sympathetic activation. However, the concept of "calming up" introduces a paradigm shift. It involves organizing sympathetic energy, transforming it from an overwhelming flood into an energizing flow. Instead of resisting or suppressing sympathetic responses, individuals learn to redirect and channel that energy towards more adaptive and regulated states.

Making Small Changes: Tracking the Ripple Effects:

When individuals find themselves pulled into a sympathetic moment, they can initiate small changes and observe the subsequent shifts in their physiological and emotional state. By making deliberate alterations, individuals gradually guide themselves towards regulation. These changes can range from adjusting body posture, focusing on breath, engaging in grounding techniques, or seeking support from a trusted individual or the equine partner.

The Power of Tracking: Love-Based Regulation:

Tracking the effects of these small changes is crucial. By paying attention to the shifts in their internal state, individuals can identify the interventions that bring them closer to regulation and well-being. This process is rooted in self-compassion and self-love, as individuals make choices that honor their needs and support their journey towards regulation.

Equine Psychotherapy and Calming Up:

Equine-assisted therapy provides a supportive and non-judgmental environment to practice calming up. The intuitive nature of horses allows individuals to experience immediate feedback on their state of regulation. Horses respond positively to individuals who are more present, regulated, and calm, reinforcing the benefits of calming up practices. Working alongside a skilled therapist, individuals can explore various interventions, learn to navigate sympathetic activation, and gradually integrate calming up into their daily lives.


By incorporating the concept of calming up into equine psychotherapy, individuals can tap into the transformative power of polyvagal theory and the wisdom of horses. Shifting the focus from calming down to calming up enables individuals to reframe their responses to stress, organizing sympathetic energy towards regulation and resilience. With each small change, individuals track the ripple effects, fostering self-love and adaptive coping strategies. Equine-assisted therapy serves as a catalyst for this process, providing a safe and nurturing space for individuals to explore and practice calming up.

Through equine-assisted therapy, individuals develop a deeper understanding of their autonomic nervous system and its responses. The presence of horses as non-judgmental and intuitive beings enhances the therapeutic process, as they offer immediate feedback and mirror individuals' states of regulation. Working alongside a skilled therapist, individuals can explore a range of calming up interventions, tailoring them to their unique needs and preferences.

As individuals integrate calming up into their daily lives, they cultivate a sense of empowerment and agency over their own well-being. They become more attuned to their body's signals, recognizing when sympathetic activation occurs and making conscious choices to redirect that energy towards a regulated and energizing flow. Over time, the practice of calming up becomes a natural and ingrained part of their coping repertoire.

Ultimately, the integration of polyvagal theory and equine-assisted therapy through the lens of calming up offers individuals a powerful pathway to regulation, resilience, and growth. By embracing small changes, tracking their impact, and approaching the process with self-love, individuals can reclaim control over their responses to stress and create a foundation for emotional well-being.

In conclusion, the concept of calming up in the context of equine-assisted therapy provides individuals with a transformative approach to regulation and resilience. By reimagining their responses to stress and organizing sympathetic energy, individuals can experience an energizing flow rather than being overwhelmed by flood-like reactions. Through the guidance of skilled therapists and the wisdom of horses, individuals can embark on a journey of self-discovery, self-compassion, and empowerment. Calming up becomes a tool for personal growth and a pathway towards a balanced and regulated state of being.

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