Those who are familiar with horses recognize and understand the power of horses to influence people in incredibly powerful ways. Developing relationships, training, horsemanship instruction, and caring for horses naturally affects the people involved in a positive way. The benefits from working with horses include: improving work ethic, responsibility, assertiveness, communication, and healthy boundaries. The use of horses is growing and gaining popularity with the rise of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning.
Naturally intimidating to some, horses are large and powerful. This creates a natural opportunity for some to overcome fear and develop confidence. Working alongside a horse, in spite of those fears, creates confidence and provides wonderful insight when dealing with other intimidating and challenging situations in life.
Like humans, horses are social animals, with defined roles within their herds. They would rather be with their peers than be alone. They have distinct personalities, attitudes and moods, so an approach that works with one horse won’t necessarily work with another. At times, they seem stubborn and defiant, but they like to have fun. In other words, horses provide vast opportunities for metaphorical learning, an effective technique when working with even the most challenging individuals or groups.
Most importantly, horses mirror human body language. Many complain, "This horse is stubborn" or "That horse doesn't like me," etc. The lesson is, if they change themselves, the horses respond differently. Horses are honest, which makes them especially powerful messengers.
Horses require us to put forth effort, whether in caring for them or working with them. In an era when immediate gratification and the "easy way" are the norm, horses require people to be engaged in physical and mental work to be successful, a valuable lesson in all aspects of life.
What is EAP and EAL? Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) incorporates horses experientially for emotional growth and learning. 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.
Not all programs or individuals who use horses practice Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. For one, licensed and properly qualified 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.
Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) is similar to EAP but 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 for a school group, or resiliency training for our military warriors.
The potential applications for both EAP and EAL are limitless!