What is Equine Therapy?
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) incorporates horses experientially for mental and behavioral health therapy and personal development. It is a collaborative effort between a licensed therapist and a horse professional working with the clients and horses to address treatment goals. Because of its intensity and effectiveness, it is considered a short-term, or “brief” approach.
EAP is experiential in nature. This means that participants learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with the horses, and then processing (or discussing) feelings, behaviors, and patterns. This approach has been compared to the ropes courses used by therapists, treatment facilities, and human development courses around the world. But EAP has the added advantage of utilizing horses, dynamic and powerful living beings.
Not all programs or individuals who use horses practice Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. For one, licensed (in the U.S.) and properly qualified (outside the U.S.) mental health professionals need to be involved. The focus of EAP is not riding or horsemanship. The focus of EAP involves setting up ground activities involving the horses which will require the client or group to apply certain skills. Non-verbal communication, assertiveness, creative thinking and problem-solving, leadership, work, taking responsibility, teamwork and relationships, confidence, and attitude are several examples of the tools utilized and developed by EAP.
EAP is a powerful and effective therapeutic approach that has an incredible impact on individuals, youth, famlies, and groups. EAP addresses a variety of mental health and human development needs including behavioral issues, attention deficit disorder, PTSD, substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, relationship problems and communication needs.
How Can Equine Assisted Therapy help those Recovering from Addiction?
Recovery Clients are many times disconnected with their feelings and their physical body as a result of childhood or recent trauma. They spend a great deal of time thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Being “in the present” and “connecting with their feelings” is very challenging almost universally. Horses help clients “be in the present” and get more “in touch” with their feelings. Being prey animals, horses are keenly aware of their surroundings and intentions of those around them. Additionally, horses’ “insides match their outsides,” consequently, if clients aren’t “congruent” with their body language and feelings, horses know this and give feedback accordingly. Clients are much more open to receiving feedback from an animal as compared to a human therapist. The arena allows for experiential learning without judgment.
How Can Equine Assisted Learning Help Corporate Teams and Organizations?
Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) is similar to EAP but where the focus is on learning or educational goals. EAL still involves the team of mental health professional and horse professional working with the clients and horses. The focus however is on education and learning specific skills as defined by the individual or group, such as improved product sales for a company, leadership skills or a school group.
How Can Equine Assisted Learning Help Children of Alcoholics?
Horses and Children of alcoholics (COAs) are similar. Horses, prey animals, are hyper vigilant in order to survive predators. Similarly, COAs must be hyper vigilant to “gauge” the safety of their environment (ie: mood of their addicted parent.) COAs also learn three unspoken rules in their home; Don’t Talk, Don’t Trust, Don’t Feel. As a result they “stuff” their feelings, and over time the painful feelings start to surface. With no preventative intervention, COA’s will look to a drug or alcohol to numb those feelings – therein continuing the generational cycle of addiction.
Horses Healing Hearts uses horses because they operate in herd dynamics and are social, like humans. Most importantly, horses can “sense” stuffed emotions in the same manner that dogs can “smell fear.” Consequently, they are the ideal animal to work with the children who become disconnected from their feelings from years of “stuffing them.” Because children want to connect with the animals, they are motivated to “connect” with and share their feelings.
Although equine therapy for physical disabilities has been in practice over 30 years, using horses for emotional trauma is fairly recent. In July of 2014 The University of Washington released a study proving the positive effects of horses helping children. This study measured children’s cortisol levels before and after working with the horses. There was a measured reduction in cortisol after working with the horses.