Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is an experiential therapeutic intervention where horses provide a way to gain information about and insight into difficulties people are having in their lives. Within the rapidly growing field of EAP, there are different models regarding how to conduct this type of therapy.I am a Certified Mental Health Professional and Equine Specialist through EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association), a non-profit organization which promotes, educates, and provides standards of practice, ethics, and safety in the field of EAP (visit www.eagala.org). In this model, therapy is conducted with a team consisting of a mental health professional, a horse professional, the client, and a herd of horses. I am also trained in Natural Lifemanship (TM), Trauma Focused-EAP (TM) and Rhythmic Riding (TM). See www.naturallifemanship.com. EAP is experiential in nature, that is, clients participate in activities involving horses and then discuss the feelings, behaviors, and patterns that emerge. It has shown to be a powerful and effective therapeutic approach that has an incredible impact. Becoming aware of non-verbal communication, practicing assertiveness, teaching problem-solving, taking responsibility, promoting teamwork, building relationships, increasing confidence and improving attitude are examples of only some of the benefits of EAP.
The primary reason horses are used is because a horse will react to a person’s behavior in much the same way that another person will. This is the dynamic that sets the use of horses apart from other animals. Horses are honest in their responses, which allow the client to take responsibility for the relationship they build with a horse. A horse will not give acceptance until the client learns to build a relationship that fosters love and acceptance, the same way they must do in human relationships. Horses live in the present; they do not respond to what was done in the past or what may happen in the future. A typical human’s response is tied to the past, present, and future, which is not conducive to honest, immediate feedback. Once clients understand the things for which they are responsible, they can make changes in themselves to improve the relationship with the horse, and then apply those same changes to more complex human interactions.