Escape into nature with a holiday on horseback. Whether you’re looking to ‘ride and dine’, enjoy a ‘cream tea and a canter’, ‘saddle up for a spa day’ or try ‘equine therapy’ to boost your confidence, The Equestrian centre at Lucknam Park affords everyone the opportunity to enjoy the thrill of horse riding at their own pace…
An annual betting slip on the Grand National for the past 20 years is the closest I’ve ever got to horses, but I’ve always had a quiet admiration and respect for them. Powerful and yet somehow entirely honourable and proud as they stand beneath the rider.
I’ve also always been incapable of ‘switching off’ to take my mind off my inbox, from massage, meditation and morning sober raves to belting down a Barry’s Bootcamp treadmill, all to no avail. As a result, I have a penchant for searching for new ways (however unusual) to attempt to find my inner-ohm.
Step forward Lucknam Park and their new ‘Equine Connect Programme’. Caring for and interacting with animals has historically many proven health benefits. It provides people with companionship, comfort and a strong sense of wellbeing, so it’s no surprise that animals have been used for therapeutic purposes throughout history. Equine therapy or therapy involving horses has been found to be particularly effective in helping individuals to process and change negative behaviours like my inability to stop thinking about my emails.
Off I popped to Chippenham to experience it’s new Equine Therapy programme. During the session, you don’t actually ride the horse. Instead you watch an instructor connect with a horse through a process that requires observation, clear thought, patience and self-awareness as the horses are incredibly sensitive to your body language and emotional output. As you walk out to the circular paddock by yourself for the first time in an attempt to recreate what you’ve seen, you are alone with your horse, or in my case, Emily. Your trainer, or should we say facilitator, coaches you from outside of the circular paddock. They ask you to be self-aware, to show confidence but peacefulness in your body.
As the horse enters it naturally begins to gallop around the edges facing the outside with their body away from you – this is because horses have natural ‘herd behaviour’ and they are looking for their herd. By facing your body wholly towards them continually and staying just ahead of their circuit, little by little you begin to notice the changing body language of the animal itself. First, its ear closest to the middle of the ring (and therefore you) slightly pricks up. The horse shows an interest in you. Then, with patience the horse slightly turns its head as it continues to gallop around you to see what the quiet presence in the middle of the circle is. Little by little you watch the horse understand there is no herd outside the ring to run for, there is no threat, YOU are in fact it’s herd and it’s only team.
The horse’s gallop slows into a canter then a trot and soon, when the horse is ready to accept that you are its leader and friend it ‘comes in’ to you. Interestingly, to show leadership and trust, you turn your back as the horse approaches to ensure the horse understands that you are in control and the confident leader of this new team. After you are ‘connected’, you follow a set of exercises to see just how well you able to work with your horse and how well you are able to use only your body language to show presence, your wishes in terms of which direction you want the horse to follow. It’s nothing short of remarkable.
Showing leadership, confidence and calmness to a one tonne animal and having it decide to work with you through nothing other than a projection of your authentic self is a glorious confidence boosting, soul inspiring moment. If you’ve ever experienced loss in direction, purpose, self-doubt, low confidence, anxiety or depression, or like me you simply find it impossible to disconnect, this is an experience worth popping over to a beautiful part of Wiltshire for.
I thoroughly recommend you take an assisted hack through the countryside with the team too . The fresh air, the stunning Park grounds are gratifyingly peaceful – I guess I finally found my Ohm.
Equine Therapy costs £120 pp and includes this personalised therapeutic session at Lucknam Parks Equestrian Centre. A further 1 hour instructional hack costs £130 per person.
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Hettie is the editor and co-founder of DOSE. A keen runner, she’s also partial to a blast of high-intensity and hot yoga. A country girl at heart, she divides her time between London and the lush rolling hills of North Devon. When she’s not jetting off on her next adventure, Hettie can be found in a candle-lit alcove with a laptop, a spaniel and a full bodied Malbec.