Q: What is equine-assisted psychotherapy?
A: Equine-assisted psychotherapy is a process that utilizes the emotional state of the horses to trigger metaphors and solutions for the clients’ inner conflicts. It does not involve any riding whatsoever. Instead, it is observation-based and ground interaction with the horses.
Q: What happens during an equine-assisted therapy session?
A: Through various equine-assisted activities, clients are prompted to create a “story” in the arena using props as metaphors (similar to sandbox therapy). The horse or “equine partner” then interacts with one another within the story. The effectiveness of equine therapy comes from observing the horses’ movement; it can cause deep reflection within the client and trigger out-of-the-box thinking to enable the client to find inner solutions to their problems. This therapeutic model was developed by EAGALA who I received advanced certifications in 2018.
Q: Why the EAGALA model?
A: I was drawn to the EAGALA model because of its evidence-based emphasis on client-centered solutions and allowing the horses to be the therapist and focus in session. They train us to be careful not to interpret the events that occur; instead, we are to be curious and ask open-ended questions that trigger the client to think for themselves without therapeutic suggestion. The equine specialist is there to guide the client through the experience. Nothing makes me more excited than seeing the client have that “Aha!” moment.
Q: Can you give an example of a group you’ve done?
A: One of the most memorable groups I’ve done was on the subject of grief/loss. I asked the clients to show me what grief and failure look like to them, and as a team, they decided to use the props to make a path to represent the five stages of grief and loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While they were building, the horses were watching from the corner of the arena. The clients walked back to me when they completed their pathway and described what the props represented to them personally. We had a moment of silence to reflect on the path, and the horses still weren’t moving, which was strange. In my anxiety to end the silence, I went to prompt the clients to lead the horses through the path, but before I could complete my sentence, one of the horses began to move. The horse walked to the beginning of the course, took a moment to sniff every single item each client placed and worked their way through all five stages. When the horse got to the end or “acceptance,” they turned around and stared at the group with their head held high. There wasn’t a dry eye in that arena. But the coolest part to me is that each of us had a different takeaway from watching that experience. Even though we all watched the same thing, it meant something completely different, emphasizing the power of allowing for client-centered solutions and not putting our interpretation on their story. Any solution my client can come up with on their own will inevitably be longer-lasting than the one I come up with for them.
Q: What if a client is scared or has terrible reactions to horses?
A: That’s pretty common with our clients since many come from out of state, and some have never even been around horses before! They have never experienced the power of horses! But the beauty of these equine-assisted therapy programs is that the client can observe and still get a similar impact which allows them to take things at their own pace. Though, I always see the housemates be so supportive of the new clients that might be scared to help with the baby steps of getting over their fears, which is empowering in and of itself! By the end of their stay at Maple Mountain, they, without a doubt, leave with a newfound love and comfort of horses.
Q: How does equine therapy differ from other pet-assisted therapies, such as dog therapy?
A: Well, I always do say horses are kind of like big dogs. But size aside, I believe the difference comes down to horses being animals of prey by nature and not the predator. Their fight or flight nervous system is more similar to that of a human, so we can emotionally relate to their actions and personalize them on a deeper level. I haven’t had experience with dog therapy much other than seeing how great their companions can be with their cute snuggle sessions, but horses can give hugs too!
Q: What does Equine-assisted psychotherapy therapy help?
A: Equine-assisted psychotherapy helps with a variety of issues! Mental health providers, such as a Social worker, recommend people with disabilities, behavioral problems, posttraumatic stress disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and anxiety disorders to an equine specialist. Equine therapy is an attractive option for everyone who is curious or wants to learn the efficacy of equine therapy!