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Polyvagal Theory in Equine Psychotherapy: Learning to Assess through Horses' Wisdom

Polyvagal theory, a groundbreaking framework developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, provides valuable insights into our autonomic nervous system and how it influences our responses to perceived threats. In equine-assisted psychotherapy, the application of polyvagal theory allows individuals to learn how to assess situations by observing how horses assess their surroundings. By utilizing discernment questions, individuals can explore their responses and determine whether their level of reaction is necessary in the present moment, helping to break free from patterns of past trauma and enter a state of emotional regulation and growth. In this article, we will delve into the use of polyvagal theory in equine psychotherapy and how it aids in assessing situations, inspired by the wisdom of horses.

Understanding Polyvagal Theory:

Polyvagal theory emphasizes the importance of our autonomic nervous system in regulating our responses to perceived danger and our ability to engage in healthy social interactions. It posits that we have three distinct states: the sympathetic fight-or-flight response, the dorsal vagal shutdown response, and the ventral vagal state associated with safety and connection. The ventral vagal state allows us to assess situations effectively and respond with discernment.

Equine Psychotherapy: Learning from Horses' Assessment:

Horses are remarkable animals with highly attuned instincts for assessing their surroundings. In equine-assisted psychotherapy, individuals have the opportunity to observe and learn from horses' assessment processes. Horses possess a heightened sensitivity to nonverbal cues and have the ability to detect subtle changes in human emotional states. By observing how horses assess situations and respond accordingly, individuals can gain insights into their own patterns of assessment and regulation.

Breaking Free from the Past:

Past traumatic experiences or unresolved emotional wounds can trigger a heightened sense of danger, pulling individuals into survival energy and activating familiar patterns of protection. These patterns may no longer serve a useful purpose in the present moment. Through equine-assisted psychotherapy, individuals can learn to recognize when signals of danger from the past are being activated in the present, and consciously assess whether the level of response is necessary.

The Power of Discernment Questions:

Discernment questions play a vital role in the exploration of an individual's response patterns. By asking, "In this moment, in this place, with this person or people, is this level of response necessary?" individuals can engage in a process of self-reflection and discernment. This question helps individuals assess whether their reactions are proportionate to the current situation or if they are influenced by past experiences. Through this practice, individuals can break free from automatic survival responses and move towards more adaptive and regulated patterns of behavior.

The Therapeutic Journey:

Equine psychotherapy, guided by the principles of polyvagal theory, provides a safe and supportive environment for individuals to explore their responses and develop discernment. Through interactions with horses, individuals learn to attune to their own bodily sensations and cues, increasing their self-awareness and emotional regulation skills. The horses' natural ability to assess situations and respond authentically serves as a mirror for individuals, helping them recognize and understand their own assessment processes more deeply.


The integration of polyvagal theory and equine-assisted psychotherapy offers a transformative path towards assessing situations with discernment. By observing how horses assess their surroundings, individuals can learn to recognize and break free from patterns of past trauma and protection. Utilizing discernment questions, individuals gain insight into the necessity of their responses in the present moment. Equine-assisted psychotherapy provides a unique opportunity to develop self-awareness, emotional regulation, and adaptive behaviors, ultimately leading to personal growth and well-being. Through the wisdom of horses, individuals can embrace the power of discern

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