The fact that a horse can assess a person's state of mind and mirror it is not magical or supernatural. It is based on the horse's own place in nature as a prey animal, always hyper-vigilant in maintaining his own safety and comfort, and adhering to the laws of the herd. And yet, when a child with autism sits upon this sensitive creature and feels safe enough to speak out loud for the first time, the result does seem magical indeed. Horses (and other animals, too) offer unconditional acceptance. They do not judge past actions.They are not concerned with your appearance, but only with your demeanor in relation to them.
Hayes tells the story of one Iraqi War veteran, Cody, who turned to Hearts and Horses for help when traditional therapies were not successful in treating his PTSD. He was paired with a horse named Dusty. Cody asked his equine counselor why Dusty periodically pinned his ears and seemed distrustful of him when he approached. The counselor asked if he was anxious and he admitted he was, in fact "all of the time." She suggested then that he was making the horse anxious, and that Cody stand next to Dusty, stroke him, and just breath. Gradually, both Dusty and Cody relaxed, and soon their relationship became a bond built on trust. It took time, but as Cody tells it, the result was amazing: