What is Equine Assisted Psychotherapy?

Have you ever considered or learned about Equine Assisted Therapy when in your search for recovery options? If you haven’t, there is something so special about equine therapy that is definitely worth giving a try. Even if you aren’t necessarily an animal person, it doesn’t matter. Horses are used in all types of ways, but when it comes to therapy, they are especially powerful.

Equine therapy can help with countless things that you may be struggling with. Some of the most common include: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression 
  • Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating 
  • Grief and Loss 
  • Trauma 
  • Negative Body Image
  • Addiction 

Now you may be wondering, what exactly is equine therapy? And how can it help me? Well, there is no simple answer to that question. What I can say is that Equine-assisted psychotherapy incorporates horses experientially for emotional growth and learning. The belief that humans learn best with experiential learning is especially important when it comes to Equine-assisted therapy. These types of sessions are a little different than a sit-down and talk with one therapist, it is a ground-based collaborative effort between a licensed therapist and a horse professional working with clients and horses to address treatment goals. Both roles are extremely important when it comes to the session. Both are there for you to express your feelings, but the horse professional is ultimately there for your safety and a better understanding of the horses. This type of therapy can be extremely beneficial, if you are someone that doesn’t love to sit down one on one with someone and talk for a while, or if you find healing within animals. It starts at the root and gives you obstacles, but also allows you time to process and reflect on the experience. 

Horses are honest teachers with personalities as varied as those of humans, and therefore, they react differently to each person and each action. Horses have a unique sensitivity to human feelings. They tend to mirror our emotions and body language. We can learn about ourselves through them.  Studies have shown that animal-assisted therapy reduces cortisol, the stress hormone. Being present with the horses can encourage a person to be alive in the present moment. The horses realize that is the only moment we have. 

Here is how a session of equine-assisted therapy can look. 

Ben walked into the space with the horses wanting to be able to control his anger. He felt it coming on without warning, and he was looking for help. He was presented with one of the miniature horses and given the opportunity to move this horse from one space to another without forcing.

Ben’s level of frustration increased as the horse refused to do what Ben wanted him to do. After some questioning, Ben realized that he felt the anger building in his body. He was able to identify the anger and take a deep breath. He then tried a different, calm, and patient approach with the horse. The horse accepted this version of Ben and easily moved where Ben had asked. 

Ben left the session understanding his anger, where it originates, and how to breathe into it and let it go. This happened in one meeting with the horses. The physical and the mental coming together is experiential learning, and it is powerful.

With this, it is so much easier to understand the struggle at hand when it is clearly presented in front of you in a way that you have to listen and accept it to achieve the goal. While it may be challenging at first, sometimes something so small as moving the horse from point a to point b, seeing how the horses react as you approach them, or seeing how the horses interact with one another can be the premise of a session and paint the picture of your life and struggle. 

Equine-assisted therapy can be so beneficial. It can reduce stress, encourage presence and feelings of being alive and help to understand felt emotion, where it originates from, how to breathe into it and let it go. –

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