Trauma Healing for Adults & Children

Chapter 7
Horses, Humans, Trauma, and PTSD

Both horses and humans are vulnerable to trauma. Both can experience traumatic events. However, a number of today’s trauma experts believe that only humans are susceptible to what is specifically referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. 

The hardwired response to any life-threatening event, one that causes trauma for all animal species, including humans, produces three options: flight, fight, or freeze. Most humans are familiar only with fight or flight and are unaware of the freeze response. However, all three are critical survival mechanisms. 

It seems the reason only humans experience PTSD stems from our inability to navigate the freeze response. Our trauma emotions are internalized instead of physically discharged, so we never fully recover. As a result, humans are left with a “thwarted freeze response,” which is the basis for PTSD. For a patient to effectively heal, some type of somatic resolution of the original trauma must take place. Remarkably, interacting with a horse can accomplish this.

The emotional healing that begins with the nonjudgmental acceptance of a horse enables patients to feel safe enough to be themselves. This helps bridge the barrier of PTSD isolation and facilitates the social reintegration of talk therapy with another human. A horse can therefore become a crucial and even life- saving component in the beginning stages of PTSD recovery.