For one Okanagan bodyworker, using animals in her therapy sessions gets to the heart of what matters. By Louis Bockner

In an open corral in Vernon, British Columbia, a person lies face down on a massage table. A woman stands next to the table, arms outstretched, moving her fingers gently over the person’s body. Beside her stand two large white horses, breathing through flared nostrils. They shift their focus from one part of the patient’s body to another, nuzzling the low back and then traversing the spine. The woman’s hands follow the horses; she’s guided by an invisible, silent inter-species communication.

Güliz Ünlü is a bodyworker and animal communicator with a background in healing modalities, like Bowen therapy for humans and horses, which focuses on the movement of fascia across the body, and BodyTalk, a multidisciplinary system that combines elements of acupuncture, kinesiology, and energy work. Her business, Equuarius, is even more niche: her colleagues are Raven and Omar, a retired pair of workhorses who once hauled logs and pulled sleighs but now take part in healing sessions. Ünlü calls this work “presence healing.” She believes the combination of equine energy and her bodywork alters the frequency of a patient’s energetic field, which can lead to a myriad of results, ranging from physical pain relief to life epiphanies. “When you bring in the purity of nature and animals, particularly horses, something happens,” she says. “When we’re around horses, our heart coherence changes and our nervous system levels out a bit.”

Feature photo by Tiffany Stark.

Although this may sound pretty out there to some, her experiences and those of her clients are backed up by recent studies conducted by the HeartMath Institute, where researchers used a technique called magnetocardiography to measure the magnetic fields produced by the heart. While the fields produced by human hearts could be measured up to three metres (10 feet) away, the fields produced by horses reached up to five times farther. Another element cited in the research is heart rate variability (HRV). HRV reflects slight variations in heart rates and can be used as an indicator of the heart’s adaptability to environmental changes; people with a higher HRV have been found to be happier and less stressed. The presence of horses, with their big hearts—which can weigh up to 4.5 kilograms—has been found to raise a person’s HRV. Perhaps this explains why horses have long been used in therapy to address conditions like autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

The presence of horses, with their big hearts, which can weigh up to 4.5 kilograms, has been found to raise a person’s heart rate variability.

Ünlü’s journey with horses started at age five when she began vaulting, a discipline she describes as gymnastics on horseback. When she was seven, her mother bought her a six-hour-old female pony she named Turkish Delight, who changed the way she engaged with horses. “It was just really pure, innocent time spent with her,” Ünlü says. “She taught me how to listen…and I think those years were a huge imprint on my relationships with horses.” Ünlü sees her work as a refined balance between left and right brain communication. “You’ve got the left brain, the masculine, the tangible, the ‘give me the data and facts,’” she says referring to Bowen therapy, while BodyTalk brings in “the right brain, the feminine, the imagination.” Ünlü has also travelled abroad with her mentor, British Columbia-based animal communicator Loesje Jacob, working with other species, including elephants. When working alongside some animals, she believes their size, wisdom, and presence can inspire people to follow a path truer to themselves. “They induce awe,” she says, “and any time that we have [an] awe-inducing experience, it literally opens up our mind and heart. It allows for the light to come in.”