Benefit from our programs for 2022.
Following is an outline of the benefits and approach to Equine Assisted Psychotherapy:
People have sought out relationships with horses since we first laid eyes on each other. Riding horses can be exhilarating, but there’s something even more profound. That’s why many mental health professionals recommend the benefits of equine therapy. There are striking similarities between horses and people. Equine Therapy challenges people to look at themselves and the world in a new way. People who have struggled to make progress or achieve their treatment goals have made significant breakthroughs with the aid of equine therapy. Research has confirmed many equine therapy benefits. It lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, alleviates stress and reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression. Equine therapy also helps people struggling with behavioural issues, addictions or mental illness. There are several life skills that a horse teaches better than a person. This is the primary benefit of using equine therapy with individuals facing mental illness, addiction, or behavioural issues.
Equine therapy offers them a therapeutic environment that can feel less threatening and more inviting than a traditional talk therapy office. The majority of children participating in EAP are between the ages of 6 to 18 years old. Children often find it difficult to open up and process painful emotions and experiences. Equine-assisted psychotherapy allows youth, and people of all ages, to work on issues such as:
Equine Therapy #1: Identifying and Coping with Feelings
Many people struggling with behavioural issues, trauma and other mental health issues don’t know how to cope with their feelings. They may display negative behaviours in an attempt to numb sadness, anger, fear or even joy. For therapy to be successful, one of the first steps is learning to identify, experience and cope with their emotions. Equine therapy is a powerful way to get in touch with thoughts and feelings. During equine therapy, you do not use your mind to address problems. For the addict, relying on your mind, often leads to denial, blaming others or intellectualizing your way around the problem. Instead, you must use your body and heart to feel and react in the moment. Horses have a unique ability to sense emotions and react accordingly. If you are angry or aggressive, the horse may become obstinate. If you are anxious, the horse may get skittish. But when approached by someone who is open and calm, the horse is more likely to respond in kind. Witnessing the horse’s response promotes self-awareness and can help people see themselves in a more realistic way.
Equine Therapy #2: Communication & Interpersonal Skills
Many people with any form of mental health issues are emotionally underdeveloped. They may have difficulty relating or getting close to other people. Yet they manage to establish close bonds with horses. Through working with horses, people recognize their patterns of interacting with others. Horses do not speak, but they are excellent communicators. Learning to understand horse behaviour can help people learn the way their behaviour impacts others. As a sophisticated herd animal, horses immediately begin building relationships with people as members of their herd. People then get to decide whether they will hold fast to their old ways of interacting or take this unique opportunity to develop a new kind of relationship. While riding can be part of equine therapy, the most important work happens during the interactions between the participant and horse. Exercises as simple as haltering, leading and grooming teach people how to approach others with respect and awareness. In equine therapy, people talk about what they see and feel. The therapist guides the person to see the horse’s responses with an objective lens. Thus, they begin to recognize the ways in which their perceptions are accurate or misguided. They also discover the ways they may be projecting their own issues onto others.
Equine Therapy #3: Setting Boundaries
Working with a horse can expose a person’s maladaptive thought and behaviour patterns. In an equine therapy session, metaphors are drawn between the client’s interaction with the horse and the patterns in their own lives. The therapist finds an opportunity to address issues like enmeshment and detachment in their family. Lessons may be as simple as how much physical space the horse needs to feel comfortable. Without any words at all, horses make clear when someone has crossed their boundaries. Trying to control or dominate will not work with a horse. Likewise, a detached or passive approach can make it difficult to lead a horse.
Equine Therapy #4: Overcoming Fears
Horses are large animals. Their strength and size can bring up unmet needs, fears, past trauma and feelings of inadequacy or lack of control. Many people fear that the horse won’t like them. They also fear the horse could hurt them physically or emotionally. Rather than giving in to their usual reaction – to escape or get defensive – people learn to tolerate and process the emotion. When doing equine work, it is like witnessing grace. When with horses, everything is exactly as it should be. These special animals allow people to bring all kinds of issues into the horse’s world and accept them as they are – imperfections and all. In a safe environment, clients learn to face their fears. They build confidence in their ability to overcome challenges. Many people feel intimidated and nervous at first. Later they discover how quickly they process those feelings and find comfort in their relationship with the horse. Empowered by the experience, people may develop the confidence to address other fears. They then transfer these lessons to day-to-day life. Participants in the AHA Equine Program don’t have to love horses or have experience working with animals in order to benefit from equine therapy. They simply have to be willing to give treatment a chance and move in a different direction than they have in the past.
Equine Therapy #5: Trust
Horses are soothing, gentle animals. They are straightforward in their interactions without lying or manipulating. They do not judge or blame. Their presence alone can be healing. One example is a client who suffered brutal childhood abuse in her family. Rather than designing a directed equine therapy session, the client was allowed to sit in the paddock with the horse. After an hour or so, the client, visibly moved, said, “I’ve never had anybody so big be nice to me before.” This experience created an “alternative memory” for the client. Past memories taught her that anyone bigger or more powerful than her would mistreat her. Now she had a firsthand experience that showed her she could trust again. When people open themselves up, they grow in their ability to build relationships and to ask for help. Mel Mardon from Angel House Australia offers almost 20 years of working with people of all ages and horses. A public figure in the media and radio known as “the horse lady”, she has contributed to effectively changing the lives of children and adults of various ages, diverse circumstances, and traumatic experiences by using Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. After five years in Australia, she has now established a collaborative partnership with an equine centre in Terrey Hills to bring this most effective approach to therapy to Australian children and adults as well to achieve the desired outcomes they want in attaining their self-identified goals.
Other Benefits of Equine Therapy
These five lessons are just a few examples of the growth that happens through equine therapy. Other benefits of equine therapy include:
learning to accept responsibility
taking care of oneself and others
a sense of pride
an appreciation for the simple joys in life.
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy
Equine assisted psychotherapy can help those who suffer from mental illness and addiction. Equine assisted psychotherapy (EAP) is a popular and effective form of animal-assisted therapy. Like people, horses are curious and social creatures. Horses communicate through body language, which makes them excellent therapy partners in mental health and addiction treatment centre programs.
Horses often mirror the emotional state of the person who is interacting with them. This provides instant feedback on feelings or thoughts that a person may not recognize in themselves but can recognize in the horse. A horse that is approached by someone who is agitated will likely behave in an agitated way as well, for example. This feedback can be used by the therapist as a foundation for individuals to learn how their behaviour impacts others and how to improve their human relationships. As such, the benefits of equine therapy for behavioural issues and poor mental health are valuable to both clients and therapists alike.
What Happens During Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy?
During equine-assisted therapy, participants groom, care for, walk, and interact with horses. The activity helps a trusting relationship to grow between the individual and the horse. For many people with behavioural issues and other mental health disorders, relationships are not easy to build.
As clients work with horses, a therapist will use guided imagery and metaphors to help individuals. These individuals will understand the life lessons they can learn from the horses and how they can apply those lessons to their own lives and relationships. Communication skills, leadership skills, boundaries, trust, awareness of behaviour, awareness of feelings, and increased focus are all common goals of equine therapy for behavioural issues and mental health treatment programs.
Who Can Benefit from Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy?
Equine-assisted psychotherapy can be beneficial for people with a wide range of conditions, including:
Drug or alcohol addiction
The benefits of equine therapy are rewarding. The mere presence of a horse can have a calming and soothing effect. However, an equine therapy program therapist can ensure that participants get the most out of their time with the horse.
In addition, participants can also learn about horsemanship skills, horse riding and other equine disciplines as they progress, transform and heal, depending on each individual and their preferences.
AHAF serves the community by connecting children, youths, adults, those living with disability or other challenges and the aged to the right services and providers for them. Contact us today to help you.