As quarter horse Luna snuggles up to one of her students, Miranda Griffin explains the philosophy behind Brave Horse, her Equine Assisted Learning program in Spallumcheen.
“Today Luna is going to be the teacher, and horses are really great teachers for three main reasons,” said Griffin. “She is big and powerful, and can we make a 1,200 pound move if she doesn’t want to move? Definitely not. She is a prey animal so that means that she has a really good awareness of her environment.
“She can even hear our hearts beat. So I tell people that if I go in the arena and I’m a little nervous but I’m acting calm and confident, my heart’s going to give me away and the horse is going to know. When emotions start to rise we step back and do our deep breathing.”
Griffin said the third reason why horses are great teachers is that they offer a safe, accepting environment.
“They don’t care what we look like, how much money we have, if we’re cool. They do care about how we make them feel.”
Griffin is a certified Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) facilitator and a fourth-year psychology student who has dreamed of helping horses and helping people since she was a little girl.
“As much as it is about the horse, it is really about you, and this is why EAL and horsemanship meld so beautifully together,” said Griffin. “I’m also a big believer that each of us has the answers for personal challenges within us — we only need to dig deep.”
EAL provides opportunities for participants to learn in a safe, accepting environment. Griffin runs programs for children ages eight to 12, youth ages 13 to 17 as well as programs for women.
“The best way to learn is by doing. Each of our exercises is designed to increase learning potential and zero in on personal skill building. The program we run is a building block program so each skill builds on the other.”
Using custom-designed exercises, participants work on the ground with horses in group or individual sessions. As there is no riding, experience with horses is not necessary.
“We don’t ride the horses because a horse is a teacher. When we’re on the ground with horses we really get to know them and we can really watch their bodies and they’re free to be themselves, so that adds a really special dynamic that we might not get riding.”
In a recent session, Griffin had her students work together to guide Luna through an obstacle course, instructing them to first study Luna to read her body language.
“How is she going to talk to us if she’s the teacher? If we’re looking at her now, her head is medium-low, she’s kind of just chilling out. If her head goes up quickly, she might be nervous. When she’s listening, her ears will be moving around casually, and once they go flat back on her head, she’s frustrated or angry. If she is standing in such a way, we can tell if she’s agitated or bored. It’s good to look at everything so we can really figure out what she’s saying.”
Griffin doesn’t push, she simply encourages and guides students as Luna is calmly led by two ropes through the course.
“She loves your communication. Horses love when people are calm and communicating. There was some great leadership going on with directions. I love the brainstorming. She was calm, she stuck with you because you had a nice thing going.”
In addition to seven-year-old Luna, Griffin’s equine teachers include Gunnar, Teddy and Gypsy, Griffin’s first horse and with her since she was 12 years old.
Now in her second year running Brave Horse, Griffin said she was the only “horse-crazy” person in her family and became obsessed with horses at a young age.
“My grandpa had a little pony on his farm, and he took me for a bareback ride on the pony and I fell off. A couple of hours later I was turning blue, so at first they thought I had gotten a bug bite.”
A few years, later, Griffin discovered that she was actually deathly allergic to horses and doctors advised her to avoid them. She ignored that advice.
“I was pretty determined — I would ride sneezing, covered in hives, my eyes would swell and I was just determined to be with the horses, and with lots of exposure it’s something that’s diminished over the years, but nothing was keeping me from horses.
“Horses are just the balm for everything. As a child I was very reserved and horses were my go-to and something I was always very gifted at, and I also am really passionate about working with children and youth.”
To earn her EAL certification, Griffin spent a week training at Equine Connection in Alberta, followed by six months of online training.
“The big part of working with horses in this setting is horses are treated like an equal — they are the co-facilitator to my facilitating, so we really get to see them shine and see how they can interact with people to change and inspire their story.
“So it’s really cool because the horses have this amazing job that they love and I get to watch them make a difference for kids and youth. I’m really big on helping kids and youth find their way and be empowered, and of self-discovery.”
Griffin runs Brave Horse programs spring, summer and fall at her in-laws’ scenic and tree-lined property in Spallumcheen. She grew up in Winfield and now lives in Armstrong with her husband, Cole.
“My husband and his dad grew up in Armstrong and they are a big horse family, so I found my horse family outside of my immediate family.”
For more information about Brave Horse programs, see bravehorse.ca.