Meet Your New Coach and Counselor, Mr. Ed!
Although it is common knowledge that pets such as cats and dogs can provide support and companionship to humans and even increase physical and emotional wellbeing, a new technique is having a remarkable impact on emotional development and team building. Equine Assisted Learning and Growth (“EALG”) and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (“EAP”) are techniques that utilize horses as an important tool in the coaching and therapeutic processes.
When discussing this particular methodology with patients, friends, and family, two questions inevitably arise. First, does the person ride the horse? And second, is the individual conversing with the horse? Surprisingly, there is no riding involved. Various interactions and activities are accomplished with the horses without the uses of any riding gear. This is how EALG and EAP differ from HIPPO Therapy, which utilizes mounted work and the actual movement of the horse as a rehabilitative service. Additionally, the objective has nothing to do with talking to Mr. Ed.
1. Horses are prey animals.
Unlike cats and dogs, the horse’s main purpose in life is to remain safe and stay alive. For the past 50 million years, horses evolved and thrived. They have become masters of nonverbal communication and have the unique ability to pick up on the very nuances of behavior. Approximately 55% of all human communication is nonverbal. Hence, when you pair a master of nonverbal communication with a human being, the horse tends to be better at identifying and reacting to our intentions and emotions.
2. Horses don’t lie.
They naturally and instantly reflect our emotions and behavior, which provides insight into how the rest of the world sees us. When presented with a reflection of ourselves, through a 1,200-pound animal, individuals begin to understand how their behavior affects others.
3. Abundance of metaphors.
The coach or therapist utilizes the horse’s candid responses, as well as the individual’s reactions as metaphors to help them identify and change negative patterns.
4. Horses don’t judge.
Interactions with a horse foster healthy relationships and assist in building trust and strength. Often the activities help individuals break through emotional barriers and become more comfortable.
A typical session includes a mental health professional or coach as well as a horse specialist. This set-up establishes one professional focused on the individual’s learning and interaction while the professional is focused on the horse and safety. Typically, organizations and companies utilize EALG for team building exercises, developing trust, and enhancing communication skills. Therapists use EAP to help treat individuals, groups, and families struggling with a variety of issues such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, divorce, trauma, and addiction. More recently, EAP is a powerful technique used to help veterans
suffering from PTSD.
By Dr. Amber Fasula, Psy.D., BCN