People who receive help from horses are often profoundly affected, helping them make healthy changes in themselves and their relationships. On a wider spectrum, our social communities are strengthened when people overcome their addictions, decrease criminal behaviours, thrive after suffering intense trauma and abuse, improve their school performance and social skills, and strengthen their teams, marriage and family relationships.
Equine-facilitated therapy provides an opportunity to learn about yourself, how you interact with the world, how your behaviour affects others and how others impact on you. This learning, along with improved communication skills and intention, improves how you live your life.
The appealing aspect for me as a practitioner is that equine intervention has helped people make these changes effectively, especially when other therapy methods have not had this impact. It’s a gentle, yet powerful, method of healing and empowerment.
As a result, interest and awareness of this model continues to grow worldwide. It is very rewarding for professionals and clients alike.
This field of therapy, if you’ll pardon the pun, grew in the USA from the 1980s onwards, led by practitioners such as Barbara Rector, or Kathleen Barry Ingram who worked with an addiction recovery programme at Sierra Tucson. Others have made subsequent developments, notably by the esteemed author on this subject, Linda Kohanov, founder of the Epona centre therapy courses and training events.
Since then, more practitioners have trained in the UK, often under the auspices of EAGALA, the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, founded in 1999 and now operating internationally.
I guess I am part of a third wave that upholds the power of the horses as the healers and teachers, so I prefer to use the emerging names as Equine-Facilitated Therapy (EFT) for therapy clients, or Equine-Facilitated Learning (EFL) for teams or organisational clients.
Equine-facilitated therapy is recognised by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) as a therapeutic method; BACP endorses equine-facilitated therapy training courses as a valid form of professional development for therapists.
The evidence base for equine-facilitated therapy is being developed all the time, through practitioners completing PhD studies, such as the impact of this equine therapy approach on combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, or how autistic children have responded to therapeutic contact with horses.
For thousands of years, in their natural environment, through living in a herd, horses operate a very sophisticated social yet organised system. There is a hierarchy, a social etiquette, with codes of behaviour for mating and decision-making, as well as protocols for dealing with threat. They can handle conflict and danger, with an ease that’s predicated on living in the moment.
Even though horses have been domesticated for centuries, this ancient wisdom still exists. And horses are generous enough to share this with us if we spend the time to tune into their world.
Spending time with horses in a therapeutic environment can teach us a lot about ourselves and the way we interact with others. Successful, happy people are able to relate with authenticity and congruence; with an intelligent ability to process what’s happening in the present moment.
The way that horses help us is precisely because they cannot talk. They will not pretend and cannot lie. Their responses are authentic and congruent, allowing you to learn exactly what you need to learn, in a collaborative and high-impact way. They show you what actions and behaviours and feelings are working for you. They won’t engage if there is something unhealthy about the way you’re approaching them. Horses model the values of respect, autonomy, coupled with emotional congruence. This leads to clear and consistent communication that enhances your relationship with yourself and others.
This helps you function at a high level and be more confident or creative.
There’s a lot written in the management world about authentic leadership and emotional intelligence. Any manager or executive can learn loads from these equine coaches that is immediately useful and sustainable when taken back to the workplace.
It can’t be taught remotely. The experience is embodied – you have to be there to get it.
The horses do the teaching. I am the facilitator to design the programmes then run them safely and effectively.
You will know what has brought you here. People with all sorts of problems can benefit from help given by horses. The horses will deftly bring to your attention what needs to be highlighted.
Interaction with horses is particularly helpful for young people to explore their challenges in life – without an adult teaching or telling them which can create resistance to compound any difficulty. Young people can accept the contribution of an animal more readily. As can people who are high-up in their careers, without the complication of competition or comparison with a colleague.
Every individual is unique, but here are some of the characteristics or issues that are commonly part of the background of our therapy clients:
- Relationship problems;
- Career change, redundancy, restructuring, pressure or bullying at work;
- Stress, anxiety, depression, panic attacks;
- Chaotic problems with food, such as bingeing, anorexia, bulimia;
- Sexual abuse or sexual trauma;
- Traumatic events (especially combat veterans or ex-forces personnel);
- Building confidence, self-esteem, assertiveness;
- Developing authentic leadership and increasing influence at work.
Long-standing or seemingly intractable problems can be shifted in amazing ways. I believe in hope and the possibility of transformation. Come and try it for yourself.
Here is a download of a description of equine therapy, written by a client. This is an account of a real experience, although it is anonymous, to protect client confidentiality.
Further testimonials about the horse work are shown below.
The therapy is working, I feel better already!
The horses could accept me and be near me.
Because of the horse work, I was able to draw again, and I was able to communicate with my husband about it, and he was encouraging, and it kind of laid a ghost. This is big. I don’t know if I can explain how big. Because it enabled me to do something I hadn’t been able to bring myself to do since 2003, and because it helped fix something that was broken in my relationship with him since 2012.
You are the most professional and helpful person in the mental health and wellbeing industry I have ever come across.
You don’t need any experience with horses and there is no riding involved. It all happens on the ground, interacting with the horse or horses.
The first step is a discussion about you and what you want to achieve. This will inform me in recommending an approach that’s tailored just for you. Usually to build rapport with the horse(s) and create consistency, about 6 sessions are required.
Sometimes you get to know the horse by observation, at other times by grooming or feeding the animal.
We use simple equipment such as a halter or rope, maybe using poles or cones to represent obstacles in life, or creating a real barrier or obstacle such as a fence or little showjump.
Mostly it’s the simplest experiential exercises that are the most revealing, such as:
Seeing how the horse reacts when you approach;
Putting a halter on the horse and walking around with the horse;
Encouraging the horse to move in a certain direction without touching or speaking to it;
Interacting with the horse by feeding a treat or stroking or grooming.
During such exercise, the horse will respond in a way that gives you feedback with wisdom, safely and without judgement. The horse wants to connect with you, but only if you are authentic and can be yourself.
But really, words can’t describe the magic and the impact, you’ll need to come along and experience it for yourself.
Outdoor work in the arena is reinforced by discussion indoors, to process what has happened and ensure you are supported in making the most of the learning and then starting to put that new perspective into action.
We work with a small herd of horses at the farm where the horses all live. Each horse has a unique history and personality, which they bring to bear when working with their human clients.
We have known all these horses for quite some time, several years in most cases. They are trustworthy in that children have ridden them safely on many occasions and sometimes they are ridden bareback. As is beneficial for their welfare, the horses have a varied life, apart from the equine-facilitated therapy. They enjoy showjumping or being ridden on hacks around the countryside, for example. But when the horses are working therapeutically, they focus on their task.
Although horses can be unpredictable, we are confident in their nature, such that they are safe and respectful with our clients – and we expect that to work both ways.
The equine-facilitated sessions take place on a working farm, so bring sturdy footwear, such as boots or wellingtons, because it can be muddy underfoot.
We have some sheltered space on our horsebox, where the talking parts of the session can take place in the living area on the lorry. There’s a chemical toilet on the horsebox too.
As for clothing, bring a waterproof jacket and maybe a hat. If the sun shines, sunglasses and sun cream could be handy. It’s a smart idea to dress in layers in case the weather changes.
The farm is home to horses, cattle and sheep, along with dogs and cats. If you are allergic to any of these animals – this might not be the best approach for you!
Please contact me if you would like to participate in this equine process. It’s a good idea to talk briefly with me about your situation or difficulties, before we arrange the first session.
The fee for each session of 60+ minutes is £80 (the horses will guide the length of session, which is usually maximum 90 minutes). There is a 10% discount for booking a block of 5 sessions paid in advance.
Executive or corporate programmes funded by the organisation: fee according to the programme design, from £500 per half day, depending on the number of attendees.