There is increasing recognition that Equine-assisted therapy (EAT) and Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) is proving to assist in mental health and with disabilities.
My own personal experience of this type of therapy was during a period of time when I had been recently bereaved and way before I started researching any EAT / EAP information. I decided I needed to be around horses. I wasn’t particularly looking for therapy but a search led me to a place not too far from me called The Holistic Horse & Pony Centre
The first lesson lets suffice it to say was emotional! Emotion for me, being typically British, meant trying to smother it, paint a smile on and to get on with it!
During the second lesson, my teacher/therapist said to lead the horse to the large arena. I walked forward but the horse wouldn’t move. I said to my teacher ” he is stubborn today”.
I was told not to blame the horse, and rightly so, but to think about WHY the horse wouldn’t move. Then it hit me! I was emotional but trying to hide it; I wasn’t being honest. I also didn’t know where the large arena was. I had only been once before and used the small arena.
I believe that this horse knew I wasn’t in a good place, I didn’t know where I was headed and I was becoming emotional and agitated. Once I had lost my agitation, had clear direction and was honest with my emotion, the horse walked confidently beside me. I had forgotten the mirror a horse hold ups to us and only when I had let my barriers down could I start to connect with the horse. This led me to read everything I could about those reflected patterns of behaviour.
I came across a book by Wyatt Webb called “It’s Not About the Horse: It’s About Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt”
Wyatt Webb is a psychotherapist and the founder of the Equine Experience at Miraval Arizona, located in the Santa Catalina Mountains. He tells people in his groups “how you relate to this animal will tell us what you’ve learned over the course of your lifetime concerning how you relate to all living things.”
The book draws on his own his own life experience and explains how anyone who wants to really know who they are must travel uncharted territory.
In his words “I’ve been working as a psychotherapist for 20 years. If I could boil down every problem that ever walked through any office that I’ve occupied– and this includes when I’ve been alone in the office– every human being suffers from two things in varying degrees of intensity, two things that are taught to us. They’re called self-doubt and fear.” He firmly believes that engaging with horses can help people to overcome fears, rediscover joy and be their true selves.
This booked fuelled my interest and I wanted to see if I could find any further material to support the impact equine therapies were having. I found that horses are helping children with mental and physical issues, veterans recover from physical and mental illness and with rehabilitation in correctional centres in the USA.
In an article by Psycology Today, they state that “Equine Assisted Therapy can be a powerful and magical way to assist our children and adolescents in multiple social, emotional, physical, cognitive, and behavioural domains. Equine Assisted Therapy is being recognized as a more integral part of psychotherapy and mental health and can serve as a unique and effective intervention that should be considered as a resource by parents and professionals.”
Similarly, the RDA are committed to researching and measuring the impact of their activities and state “Our research shows that horse riding with RDA delivers physical benefits, boosts confidence, improves communication skills and helps to build relationships. We know our activities support our clients’ education and learning, and that having the opportunity to compete improves confidence in daily life. Each year we build on our knowledge and use the insight from our research to help us do more of what we do – and to do it even better.”
In all of my rsearch it’s clear that working with horses and licensed professionals is having a huge impact on the well-being of many people. It may not produce immediate results, and this may test some people initially. My own personal experience when I was emotionally vulnerable was to realise, I had no option but to be completely transparent and then came the comfort when I was truly honest.
Maybe in the ever-increasing pace of our society, where we are are so connected and yet disconnected in many ways Equine-assisted therapy(EAT), Equine-assisted psychotherapy(EAP) and seeking the help of a horse are things that many of us could benefit from!