You can't manipulate or bully a horse, a horse knows when you're feeling anxious or scared and horses will respond well to kindly and assertive communication.
Prey and herd animals, and very attuned to the emotional states of those around them, horses have a unique sense about people. They are said to mirror the emotional states of whomever they are interacting with, and provide therapists observing these interactions real insight into the true natures of their clients.
What Is Equine Assisted Therapy?
It's not about riding horses.
Within the realm of addiction treatment, equine assisted therapy normally occurs un-mounted, with clients interacting with horses in the barn, either alone, or in a group, and with a trained equine therapist observing or facilitating the interaction.
It offers both therapists and clients a revealing glimpse at some deep seated problems, problems clients may be unaware of, or reluctant to talk about.
Horses mirror our emotional states. If we approach a horse feeling anxiety, the horse will respond with nervousness. If we show fear, the horse gets skittish. Should we try to bully, the horse responds with a determined stubbornness.
The equine therapist will ask clients to interact with the horse in a variety of scenarios - sometimes grooming the horse, leading the horse, even catching and bridling the horse loose in the barn. The therapist, and in some cases the group, will observe the interaction, and later discuss with the client what the horse's reaction reveals about the client's character.
These interactions provide metaphoric fodder for the challenges of life and of recovery. A person attempting to dominate in life, and in the barn, will quickly learn how ineffective such a strategy is, and the therapist learning this trait about the client can then help the client to better understand how dominance or control issues may be harming real-life relationships.
A person lacking in assertiveness may find it difficult to lead a horse, offering in a few short minutes a peek into the true nature of the client's character, and providing the therapist with insight into the real challenges facing the client.
Horses don't lie, and they expose us openly. They show trained observers quickly our inner truths, and sometimes, teach us the root causes of our problems in life.
Physical/Emotional, Not Intellectual
Working with horses, can be intense, especially for those not accustomed to close contact with the imposing animals. It prompts a physical/emotional reaction – you don't think, you just feel and do.
Many people suffering addictions intellectualize their problems, to their detriment. They trick themselves into believing in denial or they think their way into blaming others for their problems – and these intellectualizations can intrude into conventional "talk-therapy". It can be a time-consuming and sometimes difficult process for a therapist to break through this wall of intellectualization, and have the client see themselves honestly and openly. Warts and all!
Equine assisted therapy leaves no room for intellectualization. You feel, you react – and you reveal. And just as it shows to a trained therapist the truth of your character, it can also help those in recovery to understand their true natures, and face more head-on some of the real obstacles to emotional growth and recovery.
Equine Assisted Therapy is Rewarding
Most people come to enjoy their regular interactions with horses. There is something undeniably soothing about close contact with the animals, and in addition to the therapeutic aspects of the time spent; most participants find the therapy a rewarding change from other conventional therapies.
Most advocates of equine assisted therapy recommend that it be used in conjunction with other therapies, for best effect.
Page last updated Aug 05, 2010