Dealing with emotional difficulties such as a lack of confidence, low self esteem and even loss can be made even more challenging by a struggle to effectively communicate what you’re going through. Even if you have a good support network around you, sometimes human beings just don’t cut it.
Hoofbeatz is alternative in more ways than one when it comes to equestrian pursuits in Dubai. It’s run by one-time banking CEO Anwer Sher, who at the facility now teaches horse-whispering alongside leadership courses for Fortune 500 companies, while his wife, Eileen Verdeick, was recently voted into the Arabian Professional Horse Association hall of fame for her part in reintroducing Arabian horses to the region. In turn, they run a series of programmes from the typical, such as dressage and general riding, to the more unusual, including ‘speak horse’ and confidence clinics.
Primarily aimed at women and children (though men are more than welcome), the confidence clinics aim to help with low self-esteem, behavioural issues and instances such as miscarriage or divorce, or any circumstance in which there has been a loss suffered. In some cases, group sessions aim to help women return to the workplace after they’ve been through something traumatic – and in light of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s an interesting alternative to conventional therapies. That said, Anwer is adamant his course shouldn’t be viewed as an alternative to proper psychotherapy, but suggests it might be a way into emotional healing for those who feel they aren’t quite ready to talk.
Depending on the individual, a combination of classes can be incorporated into a visit to the stables. EQ clinics, for example, encourage attendees to explore their deepest feelings, either by interacting with horses who have similar characters, or in some cases are complete opposites. ‘Speak horse’ is all about understanding the way horses communicate with each other and behave in a herd, and by the end you might even learn something about how to better your own communication in the human world. As we stand in the paddock next to a tea-loving ex-polo pony called Tobiana, Anwer explains that horses always have four phases
of communication (hint, suggest, ask and command), while human beings will often give you no warning before lashing out.
Through my own experience I’ve learned that there are times when you might be faced with a lack of understanding or judgement. Anwer asks if I’d like to try one of the exercises, and explains that he will be blindfolding me, before putting my hands on Tobiana’s head, from which point I will move them down towards her heart. At the grand age of 31, he explains she is the oldest, wisest horse in the stables, and probably the oldest in the UAE.
The blindfold is put over my eyes, and I place my hands on her head. As I do so, Anwer instructs me to think back to ‘the deepest, darkest moment’ in my life. As I find the horse’s heart, and rest my hands there, holding my most awful memory in my mind, she twitches suddenly, then again and again and again. The blindfold is removed, and I turn to Anwer, who is standing calmly next to us. Quietly, he notes something about loss, and tears spring to my eyes. I feel foolish, but without asking what terrible life event I conjured to my conscious, he reassures me that my reaction is quite normal. In fact, his groups are often not without a few tears, as people allow themselves to feel emotions and relive experiences they are otherwise suppressing day to day.
As Anwer himself says, this is no long-term alternative to professional psychotherapy, and he doesn’t encourage it as more than a short-term experience. It does, however, seem an excellent, alternative way to start the process of opening up about trauma and the emotional impact of a difficult experience – something that could be affecting you in more ways than you’re conscious of. A beautiful way to start finding life after loss.
Confidence clinics from Dhs170, EQ clinics from Dhs750, speak horse clinics from Dhs170. HoofbeatZ, Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club, near Arabian Ranches (050 181 0401).
Animals in healing
Several studies from the ’80s onwards have shown that stroking a pet, such as a cat or dog, can lower the heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure.
Observing fish in an aquarium is said to have a similar effect to stroking a pet, being deemed both soothing and meditative.
Recent studies in the US have shown that interacting with animals can increase a person’s oxytocin levels – the hormone that makes us happy and trusting. While this is good for bonding, oxytocin is also important for creating a condition in the body that allows it to effectively heal from injury.