Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) & Equine Assisted Learning (EAL)
Equine-assisted work honors the natural behavior of horses and herds. Horses are skilled at keeping themselves safe and adept at survival; their natural behaviors are optimal for mental and physical health. In many respects, humans have lost the instinct to keep themselves safe and healthy. We entrust horses to show us the way back to health. Work and observation in the horse world lends itself to extremely powerful metaphors into our own patterns, strengths, and the nonverbal messages we send out. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy implements the power of equine-assisted principles and exercises to introduce therapy clients to themselves in a modality that has been found to be more efficient and less threatening than traditional talk therapy. Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL) is a field of practice based on the successes of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. We have learned that everyone can benefit from equine-assisted work - not just therapy clients. EAL uses equine-assisted principles and exercises in a variety of "arenas" from corporate retreats, to church groups, personal coaching, parenting and family dynamics and more!
Principles of EAP/EAL
Particular principles and exercises (based on equine behavior) are integral to the understanding and practice of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. There is valuable training in the world of equine-facilitated work, but if it does not include the following components, it is not genuine EAP as intended by the Founder of the field.
Awareness of how our equine counterparts respond (physically or mentally) to pressure (physical or emotional) and pain (physical or emotional) can give us insight into our own responses. Do we know when we are feeling pressure versus pain? Do we respond appropriately and healthfully? Horses teach us how to evaluate and respond to the world around us.
Both aspects of life are essential, but not necessarily in equal parts. Horses have mastered their individual balance between time at attention, and time at-ease. We learn to identify our own needs and imbalances, as well as those of the people around us. This simple, yet profound principle teaches us to be more effective communicators, businesspeople, friends, and human beings.
New and unknown circumstances elicit a notable response from horses. Typically physical, this response demonstrates a safe, measured, and therapeutic way for humans to confront the more fearsome aspects of life. A mental metaphor can be made to signify the physical Re-Circle Process to optimize our way of perceiving and thinking about situations we encounter every day.
Horses provide both physical and emotional metaphors into our own behavioral patterns. When do we push? When do we pull? Do we do one more than the other? When do we push and when do we pull? How does our pushing and pulling behavior affect others?
The Nonverbal Zones
Do you know what you are saying when you aren't saying anything? Horses make good use of their body language to convey the most basic and important messages to each other. Humans do the same. Sometimes what our mouths say is not in alignment with what our bodies say. The three nonverbal zones identified in EAP instruct us to be more effective communicators by aligning our verbal and nonverbal messages.
Equine Assisted Learning
What is Equine Assisted Learning?
Equine assisted learning is an experiential learning approach which promotes the development of life skills. This focus on life skills can be related to academic achievement and classroom behavior, personal growth and exploration or professional pursuits such as leadership development, team building and executive coaching.
Who facilitates EAL?
The work is facilitated by a professional who has training and certifications that qualifies them to work safely with horses, have knowledge and skill in experiential learning methods and have been trained in facilitation. This does not mean that a facilitator must be an expert horseman and expert in all things human development. This does mean that they need to offer safe, life skill directed sessions for their students. Often session are co-facilitated by a team of professionals; one who is the equine specialist and one who is the human specialist. Each member of the team has the necessary skills to work with the type of individual or group in the session. Fore example, if a horse professional is hosting a team development session for a corporate group and has not worked in leadership development before , that horse professional would partner with an expert in leadership development to facilitate the session as an equal partnership. Sessions may also be facilitated by someone who is called duly-qualified. A duly-qualified professional is someone who has both expertise in working with horses but also has additional training in human development and is qualified to work with a specific individual or group. Any duly-qualified professional must have adequate understanding of horse behavior, management and safety as well as an equal understanding of human dynamics and facilitation. This is to ensure that the professional can keep students safe and also create appropriate goals and corresponding activities. If you are not sure whether or not the professional is qualified, ask them what their credentials are and research their governing organizations to see what standards they follow.
What does an EAL session look like?
Most EAL sessions are done on an individual basis unless working with groups. Each session involves horse interaction facilitated by the professional or professional team. Though there is always a lesson plan however, a good facilitator will often follows the horse’s lead. Often the activities are problem solving based, relationship building or observation. Though students can learn horsemanship skills through the sessions, it is usually not the primary goal. Most goals are focused on the development of life skills. Lessons are often ground work but can include a mounted component.