In session, we’re observing a variety of concepts playing out: synchrony and dyssemia, social intelligence, empathic accuracy, and others. This interaction between horse and client is even more complex than we realized. Several other aspects to consider in equine-assisted practices include the effects of the hormone oxytocin and the process of entrainment.
Oxytocin is released in all mammals who are in physical contact with one another. It has been linked broadly with our ability to make social connections, as well as with bonding and anxiety and fear reduction. A research project by Dr. Andrea Beetz of Germany, investigating if human-horse interactions have a positive effect on difficult mother-child relationships through measurement of oxytocin levels, stated:
One of the central common principles underlying relational behavior of humans and non-human mammals is the oxytocin system. Oxytocin reduces anxiety, …reduces and buffers stress. Furthermore, it decreases the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which results in a lower blood pressure, and increases activation of the parasympathetic nervous system…. The present evidence suggest that oxytocin has important modulatory effects on social behavior (less aggression, facilitation and stimulation of social interaction and communication), stress coping (stress reduction), emotional states (less depression, increased trust in others), pain (reduces pain, elevates pain threshold), and the autonomous nervous system. (Beetz, Kotrschal, Unvas-Moberg, & Julius, 2011, p.2)
In Kerstin Unvas-Moberg’s The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love and Healing (2011), she states:
Touch and physical contact initiate a reinforcing cycle and produce increased secretion of oxytocin; this makes us more curious and interested in establishing contact, and, this in its turn, releases still more oxytocin, and so on. (Kindle Locations 868-870)
Meg Daley Olmert, author of the book Made for Each Other and producer of several documentaries, explores the neurochemical basis of the brain forging the powerful human-animal bond. Science now recognizes Oxytocin as a factor of social bonding;...