الإثنين 22 يوليو 2024

The Power of Play with Our Horses

موقع أيام نيوز

The mammalian nervous system is an incredible thing, with its complex functionality, and all the ways it regulates our systems, adapts to change, restores itself, and even mirrors the nervous systems of those around us. If any year was going to introduce us to the limits and resourcefulness of our unique nervous system, 2020 would be it. In this one year, every one of us has found out exactly how we cope with global uncertainty, massive change, potential scarcity of resources, and possible threats to the health of ourselves and our family and friends. Our nervous system is an integral part of how we cope with stress and change, working behind the scenes to recalibrate, reorganize and bring us into new ways of being in a healthy or not-so-healthy state.

How does all of this relate to our horses? A few ways actually, and in this article we are looking at the role of play in nervous system resiliency, regulation, and adaptation. Have you noticed how, when things get stressful and we shift our focus to survival, some of the very first things to leave our routine are play, creativity, and social engagement? As you read this, you may be thinking that you can’t recall the last time you or your horse truly played.

When my mare, Diva, and I first got together 17 years ago, neither of us had much concept of playfulness. Until then, riding had been a rather serious, methodical, and often stressful event, one ripe with agendas and expectations of myself and my horse. Looking back, I realize that despite my instructor’s regular requests for me to breathe and relax, riding created tension and often activated my sympathetic fight response. This was mirrored in the horse I was riding, creating a bit of a tricky and dangerous feedback loop, which was the very opposite of fun and playful. With Diva, after realizing my harmful pattern was negatively impacting our relationship, I made a conscious effort to bring fun, play, and enjoyment into our rides together. Looking back, I realize now that I was working with my nervous system to move into a zone where social engagement, creativity, and connection was possible. Let’s talk more about how that works.

Our autonomic nervous system (and that of our horse) runs most of our automatic functions (heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, breathing) and is responsible in large part for our survival. It is made up of two main parts: the sympathetic (flight-fight) and parasympathetic (rest-digest). Thanks to Dr. Steven Porges and the Polyvagal Theory, we now have a more complex understanding of the parasympathetic nervous system as being made up of two main branches: the dorsal vagal, and ventral vagal. The ventral vagal branch is the one we are going to be learning about today