I got more of my education from horses than any instruction,” said Jen Goddard, the Wild Hearts horse handler and trainer who runs Levaland Farm, in Middleborough, MA.
“I do natural horsemanship training, build relationships and solve problems with horses (and) start horses under saddle at my farm,” she said.
“I went through a period (in) high school, college (and) gave horse up, but dove right back in after college.” Today, she has her master’s instructor liscense and is a certified through the Certified Horsemanship Association.
Natural horsemanship is a newer idea, said Goddard, where people build relationships with horses. Since horses are prey animals, hunted for meat by humans they are naturally fearful of and timid around people. “They have no reason to trust humans,” she said.
To earn the trust of horse, she said, takes work and is usually done from the ground” She said once trust has been established in the human-equine relationship, the “bucking and drama seen on T.V. with a horse is rare.”
She believes this process of building partnership with a horse helps people heal.
Unlike dogs, who give love “pretty easily,” she said, a horse “requires you to earn trust before they will work with you.” Goddard helps veterans learn how horses communicate in the wild so they can interact with them more effectively at the barn. In the Horses for Heroes program, horses are observed first. One might learn a slow approach will make the horse feel safe but stomping too loud might trigger the startle response. Veterans practice calming themselves in order calm the horse down and be able to approach them again. Jen helps people understand the behavior and response of the horse.
“When you win over a horse it’s very rewarding,” she said explaining how it is done: with leadership – “the correct kind, which is not domineering, not forceful, but is leadership through partnership.”
She believes the relationship building helps people. -“There’s something about being around an animal, that’s a flight animal, that wants to be around you …they never take more than you are willing to give. they sense everything about you one of the most sensitive animals..” she said, “In every way sensitive. when they bond with you, and put fears aside,” she says, “I always keep that in mind” when they choose “to be around me and in my space. That trust so rewarding.”
She said, “The fact that these people have traumas in their past and animals make them live in that moment. Having trauma that causes you to feel anxious, tense, afraid. Horses can sense change in your heartbeat. Learning to live in moment, to relax, to not have to think about that (trauma)…”
“Trauma survivors have a lot of pain in the past but the horse requires you to focus in the present…” she said, “They are sensitive to what’s happening inside not just words.”
She spoke of the studies done with with humans and hoses and said when the heartbeats get synchronized, the horse will come to person.
Goddard quotes Churchill who said, ‘The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.’
She teaches about herd observation and to observe the body language of the horse. She teaches how horses communicate with each other and compares communicating with a horse to learning a new language. Once veterans begin to get comfortable with the horses, trust can be built with activities such as grooming.
One of the thing Goddard teaches is how to approach a horse. If a person is passive the horse will allow an approach. However, if a person stomps, she said the horse will flee. Body language is big in relationships with horses and she helps veterans learn to control body language and what it conveys to the horse.
Nicole is at the barn to help oversee if (person’s fear) triggered. Jen looks out for the horses and helps keep them calm and makes sure it doesn’t get stressed.
Jen’s initial involvement with Wild Hearts was entirely voluntary. “Every once in a while I do something for horse community. I volunteer to benefit horse community. That year Julie Lovely organized arranged trail ride fundraiser. I ended up raising the most amount of money. I ended up talking to her more. We hit it off completely.”
Plus, Julie and Jen both attended Babson College so they share more than their love of horses. Jen admires Julie’s passion and what she is doing for veterans and was eager to help.
“I’m big fan of our military (with family) and what they do for us and our country,” she said.
You Matter Mantras
- Trauma sucks. You don't.
- Write to express not to impress.
- It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
- Breathing isn't optional.