Why Equine Assisted Therapy?

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Why Equine Assisted Therapy?
Amy DeLuzio
Columbia International University

“The horse acts as the teacher and unlocks the client. The animal facilitates emotional breakthroughs, and the effect, therapists report, can be magical” (Hayley Sumner).

Definition and Explanation of the Topic and Interest:
Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT), specifically, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy/Learning is a type of therapy that is primarily solution-focused and client-centered. The heart of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy/Learning is captured within the EGALA system (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association). According to Hayley Sumner who is published in the US Newswire, “EGALA has set the standard for horse-related therapy including both equine assisted psychotherapy (EAP) and equine assisted learning (EAL) and has trained over 8,000 individuals globally in this experiential modality since its founding in1999” (Sumner). Lynn Thomas, co-founder and Executive of the EGALA association says, “Because of their size, acute sensitivity and history with humans, horses have a unique appeal worldwide, helping clients become more engaged in the therapeutic process.” Anne Ricalde, the association’s Regional Coordinator for Latin America says, “Our programs focus on EGALA activities which help our youth understand that they have the strength and option to choose a more productive path and take back their lives” (Sumner). It appears throughout the research that exists on this topic that the main desire of the therapists utilizing any form of EAT is that their clients gain a firmer understanding of the freedom they possess to choose what their lives entail.

People may suggest that there are many different forms of animal therapy so they wonder, why choose horses over another animal? Researchers Osborne and Selby write, The equine’s demands in interactions with humans are relatively simple and uncomplicated (Fine 2000). Horse-human interactions differ from the typical companion animal-human interaction in that horses are not predatory by nature as are dogs and cats, but are rather prey animals themselves. Consequently, by their nature, they offer unique opportunities in the therapeutic process which might not otherwise be available. Because horses are prey animals, their survival depends on their extreme sensitivity to the environment. They are essentially living biofeedback mechanisms with the ability to mirror or respond to the behavior, emotions, and internal states of those around them, rather than verbal content or paucity which may be incongruent with behavior or emotions (McDaniel 1998). (p. 300). Sumner also writes that “Horses often break through the barriers that in more traditional modes can stall individuals, couples, families and groups.” Horses, because of their prey nature, are constantly in tune with their surroundings and as a result, they are very aware of a human’s presence when they are near. This awareness is imperative for the client. As a client seeks to interact with a horse who is so alert, the client must learn how to use, control, and manipulate not only themselves and their own actions and attitudes, but their environments as well in order to achieve the desired outcome. Whether they are attempting to get a horse to make its way through an obstacle course or merely place a harness over its head, the client needs to be every bit as aware of the horse as the horse is of the client. Through this heightening of awareness, the client must learn skill such as self-assertion, self-control, patience, empathy, and flexibility, to name a few.

My particular interest in this topic stems from a few different things. First, I have always had a love for horses. After having the experience of working on a horse farm, that love only grew. I have always believed that there is something healing about merely being near a horse regardless of whether the context is therapeutic or not. After doing some practicum hours at a farm...
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