Pack and prey animals, horses have evolved to be incredibly attuned to the emotions of those around them, and when a horse and an equine assisted therapist get together, it results in a powerfully revealing therapeutic method.
Equine assisted therapy occurs un-mounted, there is no riding involved, and it is an emerging treatment for people suffering an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
How does equine work?
Equine therapy is a non-traditional therapy option that has proven to be effective in treating addiction and mental health issues in young adults. Students are assigned a horse or a pony and asked to lead, feed, and groom or even catch a horse loose in the stables. As the clients do this, a highly specialized equine therapist is able to learn about the client based on how they interact with their horse. If the horse is approached in anger, it gets stubborn. If the client is fearful, the horse responds with concern, and if the client is anxious, the horse gets worried. While it is easy for people to hide their emotions, when around a horse, it’s able to see people for who they are. In addition, the horse mirrors the feelings it sees, having no interest in hiding theirs. After the interaction, the therapist will take what was observed and use it as a basis for discussion and therapy. Equine therapy sometimes occurs in a group setting, in which case the entire group will discuss what was revealed through the interaction.
Clients are often reluctant to talk about their deep fears and problems; more importantly, they are sometimes not even aware of them. After a brief interaction with a horse, our clients’ characters are shown, which helps with the emotional work needed in order to grow.
Emotional – not intellectual
Horses are imposing animals; working with one elicits a physical and emotional response. For many in addiction recovery, overanalyzing personal problems inhibits growth and lasting results. It’s easy for clients to blame others for their problems and it can be difficult for a therapist to convince them otherwise, especially in a conventional therapeutic environment. However, when therapy is moved into a barn setting, clients demonstrate their problems in a physical and emotional way; they’re able to demonstrate what’s impeding their growth. It’s a vulnerable process; equine assisted therapy can help break down the walls of denial, forcing clients to be their most authentic selves.
Additional Benefits of Equine Assisted Therapy
Working with horses calms the angry, can provide a sense of accomplishment to the fearful and can lead to real communication from the bottled up. “Although a horse can be intimidating at first, these animals don’t judge in any way,…” says Vallerie E. Coleman, Ph.D, and one of the Assisted Therapists at InBalance where Sober College clients participate in equine therapy. Coleman, along with Amy Pulitzer, M.A., M.F.T.I, work with the resident’s, to teach them about their horses and themselves. Coleman says, “In developing a relationship with a horse, we can learn how to develop honest relationships in life. We agree with Sober College that equine assisted therapy is a valuable tool in a recovery program. It offers our patients new insights into their true natures and the challenges to growth…”