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Healing With Horses


How horse whispering can help you find peace of mind.
Manawatu | People and horses | Horse stables
A whiff of hay is in the air as lazy flies circle the horse yard. Kimberley McIntyre lines her bridles and halters along the fence line. Watching on, Wiseman, Ed, Lola, Ricky, Joe, Tussock, and Possum swish their tails eager for what activities await.

These horses all have a story. They're just like us.

"He's an introvert," Kimberley says, pointing at Wiseman, who along with Ed are the two oldest horses in the stable at age 20.

"Ed is an introvert who loves people. He's more of a people person than a horse person. Lola doesn't like people - she was mistreated by her previous owner and has carried that with her. She's great for our program as some kids can identify or empathize with her."

Makoura Lodge, near Āpiti, markets itself as an accommodation and conference centre, but it could also be described as a wellness retreat showing Kiwis what lies waiting for them when they want to explore their own backyard. Since 1998, there's been a constant flow of visitors for private functions, conferences, weddings, and domestic getaways.
Manawatu | Horses | Wellness retreat
Manawatu | people and Horses | Wellness retreats
Manawatu | People and horses | Horse stables
Manawatu | Horses | Makoura Lodge
The land the lodge sits on is deeply embedded in the McIntyre family's ancestry, having settled there in 1896. Everywhere you look are reminders of their connection to the land. Walking into the lodge, you are captivated by the grand macrocarpa interior, the timber for which was miled from the property. Stunning stonework is pieced together with boulders from Coal Creek River, which runs through one of the lower paddocks near a secluded cabin - the perfect getaway for a couple's retreat. Even the bar top is made from a tōtara log that survived a scrub fire on the property many years ago.

The McIntyres have a knack for sharing their passions with others. Father Hugh worked alongside Toyota New Zealand to create a four-wheel-drive obstacle course - he loves to take guests on 4x4 thrill rides. Oldest daughter Brooke shares her love of yoga and Kimberley uses her horses to coach people on their body language and subtle communication. Guests can also try their hand at clay bird shooting, mini Highland games, archery, axe throwing, or human sheepdog trials.

Horses Helping Humans is one of the Lodge's flagship programmes, teaching youth and corporate groups about the link between body language, communication, emotional intelligence, and mental health. Groups learn more about the way they are and their teammates communicate.

Kimberley, a qualified coach, says horses make great companions because they can mirror human behavior and respond with similar emotions. "We've only had one girl who was able to walk up to Lola - she is the only person Lola warmed up to. As a kid, she experienced profound trauma and it might just have been that Lola sensed that and empathised with her."

As herding animals, horses such as Lola rely on an acute stream of sensory data to know if they are safe or if there is danger. When people are introduced to the herd environment, horses can hear their heartbeat within a few feet, and they have the profound ability to synchronise their heartbeat with ours.

Lola and the others read humans by gauging tiny details, such as eye dilation, heart rate, body language, and gestures. She can tell the difference between submissive and dominant stances, even with people she isn't familiar with.

These skills allow her to detect the slightest sound, smell, or movement, any of which might indicate the presence of a life-threatening predator. The ability of horses to read not just behaviour of others, but also their silent intentions, is what gives horses like Lola the psychological expertise of the most gifted human therapist.

Kimberley says each session is tailored to the individual. For some approaching a horse for the first time or patting is a huge step. Others are more confident. They also make popular team-building exercises for corporate guests wanting to swap the conference room for fresh air.

Each session might include moving horses, grooming them, leading them over obstacles, backing them up, getting them to trot by increasing your energy and stopping them by only using your breathing, feeding them, or even just to be still and cuddle.

With a swish of their tails and nodding heads, Kimberley's herd of horses are led back into their paddock. These horses that happen to help humans, gallop off to horse around.

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