How Horses Help in Counseling?
Counselors across the country are adding Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) in droves to their repertoire of services. But why? Why horses
"There is something about the outside of a horse
that is good for the inside of a man."
More than 8,000 PATH International-certified specialists are using horses worldwide to help people struggling with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more. More than 2,500 EAGALA-certified specialists are doing the same. And more counselors and horse specialists are adding to those numbers every day.
Wellspring Counseling of Miami, Florida just added Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning to its menu of services for those suffering from head trauma and struggling with relationship skills. And their reasons are very clear.
Wellspring counselors say they use horses because they are sensitive. Horses quickly and easily read human's emotional states. Horses are social. They want to be in a relationship and give us endless opportunities to do so. Horses live in the present. They respond to what we are doing now, not what we have done in the past or might do in the future. They are honest. They give us immediate and honest feedback every time. And horses are very big. They 1,000 pounds of 'I cannot be bullied or manipulated.'1
"Horses, by nature, are extremely sensitive to their surroundings and toward anyone within their surroundings."
Horses can mirror some very important truths about us, says representatives of Ashenfelter Counseling, operating just outside Dallas, Texas. They can show us how we appear to the rest of the world. They can demonstrate for us how we socialize with others. They can give us the low-down on how we communicate. And they can help us learn how to trust and be trusted.2
Horses want to be "connected" and to feel "safe" in that connectedness. And when they feel the relationship with a human is good, and they feel safe, they will choose to comply of their own accord...over and over again. In her first encounter with a horse in a therapeutic situation, Tiffany Ashenfelter, now an equine-assisted counselor, said that it was the horse who sought her, who chose to interact with her. "...a horse walked up behind me and nudged me in the shoulder and essentially "chose" me, explained Ashenfelter.
"Working as large biofeedback machines, [horse's] response to a participant's mood or change in mood can help the therapeutic process in real time--helping individuals become more aware of their current emotional state."
Government statistics show that 1 in 5 Americans suffers from some form of mental or emotional illness, and yet because of high costs or a lack of available services, barely 40% of those get the help they need. This is where equine-assisted therapy could step in. More people could get treatment if they would consent to work with a horse to sort out their personal feelings and shortcomings. And they might never need to get on a horse and ride it. This kind of psychotherapy is done completely on the ground. With the guidance of a certified professional, brushing a horse, feeding it, and walking with it, can be all that is needed to unlock doors to their own problems.3
Horses are also novelty enough that people who need therapy but resist the notion of getting counseling in an office, might be attracted to the notion and actually get the help they need, says Jennifer Graham, writing for the Desert News.
"There's something about riding a horse that seems important."
Robin L. Gabriels, PsyD
There has always been a special bond between man and horse, says Marina Harris, writing for the Interactive Autism Network. Frontier tales often referred to men and their trusty steeds, enterprising women too.
"It's like I told you, Trigger...Life is sort of like gambling. You can't always win."
Roy Rogers, TV Cowboy and his trusty horse, Trigger
And the research about the benefits of equine-assisted therapy is starting to show that there really is something between humans and horses. A noteworthy study out of Colorado showed that riders did better than non-riders on an array of therapeutic matters, in particular, hyperactivity and irritability.4
Horses changed her life and her clinical professional life, says Jolene Green. I found that every time I was with a horse, it was therapeutic. She contends that within 30 seconds of just touching a horse, the energy of a horse's heart will capture yours, making it feel better. "Horses are a privilege and a gift," says Green. "They change our lives and our hearts. And, if you're like me, we never get enough. They are good therapy."5
1 "Why Horses?", Wellspring Counseling of Miami.
2 "Equine Assisted Psychotherapy," Ashenfelter Counseling.
3 "Why Your Next Therapy Session Might Include a Horse," Jennifer Green, Deseret News, 2017.
4 "There's Something About Horses," Marina Harris, Interactive Autism Network.
5 "Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP)", Jolene Green, Redmond Equine