How does Equine-Assisted Therapy differ from horsemanship?

Although spending any time with horses, whether it be riding, leisure or sport, is beneficial mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, Equine-Asssited Therpay offers the following benefits to individuals, groups and families that specifically address mental, emotional and behavioural issues:

  • The focus is on human skills, not horse skills. Horsemanship is about the instructor directing specific skills with horses. Equine-assisted therapy is about the clients being themselves.

  • A treatment team consists of a Mental Health Professional and Equine- Specialist. This team approach improves both the physical and emotional safety of sessions.

  • Specific treatment goals, objectives and interventions are identified and documented. Sessions are structured and facilitated to deliberately address the reasons clients come to therapy. Sessions are designed to best create metaphors to ‘real life’. This allows for metaphorical learning as everything done with horses is related to what is happening at home, school, work, in relationships etc.

Is Equine-Assited Therapy more or less cost-effective than talk therapy and why?

Eagala involves a professional team, time spent before and after the client session (preparing the horses and space) and also the cost of the day to day upkeep of the herd. Equine-Assisted Therapy sessions, may be higher then what some therapists charge for a session in an office. However, because of the impact that occurs for clients in less time, most report the Eagala approach is more cost-effective when taken as a whole treatment process. 
We also provide office-based counselling which can be used in conjunction with Equine-Assisted Therapy- this is more cost effective and allows for more talk therapy if that is what someone wishes.  

 What does a session look like?

The Mental Health Professional and Equine Specialist facilitate the session, along with the horses to reflect real life issues. This allows the client and therapist to “see” where problems are and find workable solutions. Clients quickly recognize unhealthy patterns as the horses mirror them. When the client makes a sincere, consistent change, the horses immediately reflect this as well. Here’s an example: the horses represent a client’s “children” and the struggle in getting the children to “listen” may be represented by working to get the horses over some obstacle. The horses will respond to the client’s non-verbal messages and generally behave just like the client’s own children. Until the client can discover new tools and abilities to become more confident as a parent, the horses (“children”) will not “behave.” Sessions like this are created to parallel any issues or goals clients wish to address.

Why should I try Equine-Assisted Therapy versus seeing my therapist in the office?

Most types of therapy are focused on verbal content while Equine-Assisted Therapy emphasizes the non-verbal component of the therapeutic work. Equine-Assisted Therapy takes you out of your element and challenges ones conception of what therapy should be, making it easier to let down barriers and allow ones self to simply interact with the horses. One of the major premises in this work is that the non-verbal patterns of the horses provide a rich source of clinical information.  

Equine-Assisted Therapy offers a space for the client to make discoveries and realisations (with the help of the horses) that seems to be more effective than being guided to these decisions by someone else. Equine-Assisted Therapy can include office sessions but always predominately ground-based sessions with the horses. Another aspect to the experiential side of Equine-Assisted Therapy is that the client is actively engaged in the process, many people learn lasting change through experience as opposed to conversation. The horses and their nature, the outdoor element, and the experiential side of this work, all combine to engage the client in different ways than what might take place in a typical office ‘talk therapy’ setting.

How many sessions are needed before I see relief or results?

This depends on the individual; however, most people report relief after the initial sessions. Within minutes if a client is willing to trust and accept the feedback from the horse, as opposed to weeks or months with a therapist. This is mostly because the client can rely on the horses input as honest and constructive, realising that they don’t have a hidden agenda or motives. Duration of sessions depend on the specific needs of the client. At Vanora, we have a referral form and confidentiality form which needs to be complete prior to starting Equine-Assisted Therapy. During this time, we can have a conversation around the needs and goals to be addressed within therapy and may discuss duration of Equine-assisted Therapy. Generally, sessions are scheduled for 50 minutes on a weekly basis for 4 to 8 weeks, however all session schedules are based on the best interests and needs of the client, so this may vary.

Why are there two people in the treatment team?

Actually, there are three entities within the treatment team, the horses are included! The Dyadic human team is vital to the success of the treatment team. The Equine Specialist focuses on the horses and is mindful of client and horses’ physical safety. While the Mental Health Professional mainly focuses on the client. Both are striving to notice the non-verbal and metaphorical signs that take place between the horses and the client. The Mental Health Professional is a certified therapist and can professionally navigate any issues that come up within a session. The Equine Specialist has extensive experience working with horses and can understand horse behaviour. 

Is there Riding?

No, all sessions are ground-based. This allows for the horses to be loose in the arena or paddock, so they can to express a level of freedom to be themselves, in doing so provides a larger platform to mirror and reflect what is going on internally for the client.

Do you have to have experience with horses?

No prior experience in handling horses is necessary. In fact, in many cases it is very therapeutically revealing to interact and work with horses without knowing how to. Often, the horses will leave clues or give signals that guide you in the right direction to accomplishing goals, if you are honest with your desires or fears and then open to receiving their feedback. For example, if you are honestly afraid of them and you don’t hide your fear, generally there will be a horse that will step forward and gently teach you to trust them.

How does the horse know what I am thinking or feeling?

Horse’s survival largely depends on their keen perceptions to detect subtle changes in their environment. They can sense changes in your heart rate, respiration and even ‘intentions”. They are in-tune with your energy levels and react by mirroring your internal emotional landscape.

If I have a recurring behaviour or pattern that is destructive to myself or others, how can horses help?

Horses can help by providing a non-judgemental space for the client to explore their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Horses facilitate the process of gaining insight and help to resolve emotional problems by bringing to the fore patterns that very quickly allow the treatment team to identify core issues, beliefs and maladaptive patterns that furl or sustain emotional issues. This process occurs as a result of ground-based activities, where the client and horses interact. For example, often people are unware of their own patterns and habits. Horses help us to discover these hidden patterns by showing a physical parallel to our behaviours and act as mirrors for what is occurring for the client. Research shows that we can even affect changes in the horses’ heart rate when our own heart rate increase or decreases. Once the unhealthy patterns have been identified, we work as a team (facilitators, client and the horses) to find solutions, ideally by creating healthier patterns.

Horses are large, powerful and can sometimes be dangerous so how do you handle safety concerns in the arena?

We recommend that when you are around the horses, that you remain aware of your personal space at all times. Horses are herd animals and they are very good at taking care of themselves and each other within the herd. When you join their space we ask that you notice and are aware of the herd dynamic and surroundings around you. In general, we know our horses are safe and in no way pose harm towards people. We also know that as facilitators we have to keep the canvas blank in order to all the process to unfold. For the horses to do their job brilliantly, we must allow them to be themselves 100% of the time. (2008, Eagala Survey- in over 30,000 sessions worldwide, only 5 reported needing any medical assistance, of those 5, 2 required a visit to a doctor.