Equine Assisted Therapy?
Mental health professionals and researchers are constantly searching for effective interventions to address the problems of adolescents. The increased need for effective interventions and the difficulty of working with this population have resulted in the design of many non-traditional approaches to therapy for at-risk youth, such as various experiential therapies, animal-assisted therapy, various expressive therapies, wilderness therapy, and adventure-based therapy.
Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) is the practice of using horses for emotional growth. Participants in therapy use feelings, behaviors, and patterns to better understand the horse and themselves. The field of using horses for therapy is new and growing rapidly. It has been proven to be very effective in building confidence, improving communication and giving personal insights to participants involved with equine assisted therapy.
Much of the equine therapy is facilitated by non-verbal communication skills. Horses, like many other animals, communicate non-verbally. They use body language and often mirror the emotions and behaviors of the participants that surround them. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy builds skills in the following areas:
- Problem Solving
- Work Ethic
- Personal Responsibility
- Emotional Growth
- Relationship Building
Is Equine Assisted Therapy similar to Horsemanship?
The short answer is no. Eagala.com's white papers state that "Horse knowledge is not the goal of EAP. The focus is on the process of participating in an activity with horses, and the client’s behavior and response is central." Horsemanship focuses on riding and skill and mastery of horse riding. Equine Therapy focuses on learning to manage a horse psychologically, not just skills testing. Students of equine therapy programs first learn to simply groom a horse. Step by step they gain confidence in themselves and the trust of the horses. They move through various stages in equine therapy to eventually riding through canyon trails.
One equine therapy program, says the following about what students can learn from working with horses.
- "Horses can also help students build important relationship skills. For most students, riding the horse is a huge issue of trust-they must be willing to trust the horse before they can be successful. This can bring up issues of trust that students are facing in their lives. Students who have been unwilling or unable to form positive, healthy relationships in their lives sometimes find their equine partner to be the first successful relationship they have ever had. This relationship can form a model for other relationships, teaching the student skills such as empathy and patience. As in a human relationship, successful riding and horse training require positive, healthy communication. Horses respond best to assertive body language and decisive cues, not the mixed signals that students often give. Eventually students learn that communication with the horse is two-sided, just as with people, and requires them to pay attention to what their equine partner is saying."
How does a program become equine assisted certified?
In order to provide therapeutic services to adolescents involving horses, a school or residential program must be certified. There are various therapy associations which provide certification for equine therapy. It is important that when choosing a program for you teen or adolescent that the program is certified. Several levels of certification exists among the various certifying groups.
Does Equine Assisted Therapy Work?
Several studies have been done as to the effectiveness of equine assisted therapy versus traditional therapeutic sessions. In nearly all cases adolescents who received Equine therapy on average experienced greater total therapeutic change in psychosocial function than those who received no training. Bettina Shultz author of "The Effects of Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy on the Psychosocial Functioning of At-Risk Adolescents ages 12-18" states that the scores are 15.77 and 32.11 points greater than at-risk adolescents who are not participating in EAP. Statistically there is only a 5% change this is due to error or randomness.