AS powerful animals with strong intuition and hyper-sensitive awareness, horses are capable of gauging and responding to people's intentions and non-verbal communication.
Encouraging horses to cooperate and follow instructions requires good leadership skills, clarity and focus.
To many, the sheer size of a horse can be intimidating, so working alongside them, overcoming feelings of fear and gaining their trust can develop confidence and the necessary personal tools to deal with life's challenges.
As someone who has been around horses all her life, Co Down woman June Burgess recognised how these big and beautiful beasts not only helped her connect and communicate with the world around her, but also left her feeling calmer.
A successful businesswoman as well as an accomplished and competition-winning rider, June, along with her husband, built and owned the Fitzwilliam Hotel in Belfast for six years.
However, these days she runs horse-assisted workshops at her private farm in Ballygraffan, outside Comber, perched on the edge of Strangford Lough.
"I've always loved horses," reveals June, who runs the equine therapy company Horses For People.
"I started riding them when I was seven years old, competing at international level when I was older and riding for Ireland over 60 times.
"Even when we owned the Fitzwilliam Hotel, I continued to ride, spending time with the horses before I'd head into work. I found being around horses therapeutic. They helped me to have a balanced approach to life."
After being invited to mentor the Ulster Rugby team in 2009, June became a certified coach and, through this work, learned about equine therapy, which was popular in the US.
She set up her business on the home farm at Ballygraffan and began to offer one-to-one and group workshops, with an emphasis on therapy more than leadership.
"The people who come here have different problems or obstacles which they want to overcome," she says.
"We've had many veterans who are suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). They seem to particularly benefit from being around the horses.
"It can be difficult for veterans to talk about how they feel and their problems can overshadow their lives.
"Being with the horses, doing the exercises with them, allows them to be present in the moment. They can switch off and just focus on the task at hand.
"We also see people who want to learn more about themselves, who need a confidence boost or who want to learn how to communicate better.
"If they're feeling nervous or not in the best place, the horses can pick up on that, so it's all about letting go of that fear. Once they let go, everything relaxes and falls into place.
"Horses are non-judgmental. It doesn't matter who you are. They will respond to how much you put into the relationship and how committed you are. Horses are very intuitive and respond to the energy you bring to the situation."
There is no riding involved as all exercises are ground-based and experience of being around horses isn't needed.
According to June, those who do the workshops go away with increased confidence, a better knowledge of how to be more aware of themselves and how they interact with other people.
"It's about being open and clear because horses know when they're being tricked or cajoled," she says.
Carrickfergus woman Julie Hart-Thompson was struggling with grief after losing both her parents when she turned to June and equine therapy to help her cope.
A keen rider herself when she was younger, she met June through their shared passion for horses and was interested to see for herself what Horses For People was about.
After signing up for a two-day workshop at Ballygraffan, staying in the converted stables on the farm, Julie emerged a more confident, relaxed person and, although still missing her mum and dad, learned how to manage her grief.
Interacting with the horses was a life-changing experience - and one which she will never forget.
"My dad died from a stroke in June 2014 and his death really knocked me for six then in March 2016, my mum passed away. I was heartbroken," Julie explains.
"I hadn't been long married and my husband Peter was my rock, but I was really struggling. I went for counselling but found that I just couldn't open up.
"I cried every night. No one tells you how to grieve when you lose one parent, never mind two. So, I signed up to do the two-day workshop with June to see if that helped."
Slightly sceptical to begin with, Julie wasn't sure what she would gain from the equine therapy.
A lack of self-belief caused her to feel anxious that she wouldn't bond with the horse in front of the other participants, but she needn't have worried. By the end of day one, she had earned the horse's trust and found herself growing in confidence as she confronted her fears.
"Horses don't judge you," she says. "They don't care if you're wearing Gucci loafers or a Rolex watch. They like openness and honesty and if you open up to them, they open up to you. It was an overwhelming experience. I had this humongous animal putting its trust in me, following me with no lead rope, interacting with me in such a positive way.
"It really helped with my grief. In one exercise I had to feel the horse's heartbeat and get mine in sync with it. That creates an emotional bond.
"For a long time I'd found it hard to be around other people, but it was so amazing being with the horse, feeling its gentle nudge, its eye contact. It really lifted my heart. To feel that connection is something I will take with me for the rest of my life."
By the end of the weekend, Julie found herself coming out of her shell completely and, with her self-belief regained, she was able to make the decision to leave her job and set herself up in media sales.
"I'm a different person now and that's down to June and the horses. It's the best thing I've ever done," she adds.
Portrush artist and mum-of-two Frankie Hill was at a crossroads in her life and feeling a lack of direction when she booked in for a day workshop.
A well-established artist during the 1990s, whose work featured in private art collections worldwide, she had thrown herself into motherhood when her son and daughter came along.
However, when they left home to go to university, Frankie suffered from empty nest syndrome, which in turn had a negative impact on her confidence and left her wondering who she was.
But that all changed at Ballygraffan.
"I was running a boutique hostel with my husband Andrew and still doing art to an extent, but I didn't know who I was any more and felt depressed," Frankie admits.
"I was coming to the horses vulnerable. I'd ridden horses for years, but my confidence was gone. I wasn't in a good place.
"The thing with horses is that they are very perceptive. If you are nervous going into their space, they'll tense up too. If you're calm, that incites calmness. Because they're so trusting and intuitive, they help you to see where you are in your life.
"If you're coming to them from a place of empowerment or disempowerment, you instantly know because they respond to their environment. The horse is like a mirror. As the day progresses, you see yourself through the horse moving from a place of fear to one of confidence and strength."
Following the workshop, Frankie and her husband decided to put their hostel on the market and she has since thrown herself back into her art full-time. She opened the North Coast Gallery, set up a new website at www.frankiecreithart.com and started to volunteer at Riding for the Disabled.
"I've got direction and balance back in my life and I've learned that it's never too late to make the changes we need to make," Frankie adds.
÷ For more information, visit www.horsesforpeople.co.uk