young woman hugging a horse on a ranch participating in equine assisted psychotherapy

Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy: The Magic of Horses

Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) is one of the fastest-growing segments in the mental health field. EAP has proven to be a highly effective form of therapy that can be implemented in tandem with other traditional modes of treatment. EAP is based on the premise that horses are non-judgmental creatures that can help patients to feel comfortable and safe while working through difficult emotions and experiences.

The horse serves as a metaphor for patients’ inner emotional lives, and the process of caring for and interacting with the horse can be used to explore deep-seated issues. EAP is particularly effective in treating PTSD, anxiety, and depression patients. The horse’s calming presence can help lower stress levels and provide a sense of grounding for patients struggling with trauma or difficult life experiences. Learn more about our equine therapy program at The Ranch Tennessee. Call us at 1.844.876.7680 for more information on equine-assisted psychotherapy.

Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy

Unlike traditional therapies, equine-assisted psychotherapy takes place within an arena or barn setting with horses, a mental health professional, and an equine professional. Through structured and mutually respectful activities, EAP utilizes the horse to provoke responses from the client and then mirror that client’s behavior. EAP is not “play therapy,” nor is it some existential experience.

Instead, the therapist facilitates the session and monitors the client. In contrast, the equine specialist monitors the horse to infer and interpret the subtle ways the horse’s body language communicates comfort, discomfort, and incongruence in the client’s presence. Using specific exercises and scenarios, and with the aid of the treatment team, EAP clients learn about themselves and others by processing the horse’s response and their feelings, behaviors, and patterns during the session.

Horses and Psychotherapy Is Experiential

Equine-assisted psychotherapy is experiential instead of solely intellectual, which makes it especially effective for treatment-resistant clients or people having difficulty progressing within the parameters of traditional office therapy. EAP shows how a person responds to challenging situations “in the present.” The focus moves from the client-therapist relationship to the client’s relationship with the horse and, ultimately, with themselves. Some of the issues addressed might include:

  • What life skills does the client utilize in tight or challenging situations?
  • Is a particular response serving the client?

Equine-assisted psychotherapy can be a powerful alternative to traditional talk therapy or can provide insight for an individual who may be confronting a difficult therapeutic juncture. As a result, EAP’s primary concern is the ground rather than horseback riding. Instead, the focus of EAP involves constructing activities and challenges affecting the horses that will require the client or group to interact with the animal and then apply specific skills or improved responses and behaviors to a given challenge.

Goals of Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy

Several of the goals EAP may assist in attaining are as follows:

  • Non-verbal communication
  • assertiveness-training
  • creative thinking
  • alternative problem-solving
  • leadership-training
  • responsibility recognition
  • teamwork-building
  • relationship analysis
  • confidence-building activities
  • attitude

EAP is based on the undeniable fact that humans and horses have coexisted for thousands of years. Despite our modern technological advances, we continue to be drawn to the horse. They are non-judgmental creatures with which we can share a unique bond. Consequently, they offer an excellent metaphor for exploring our inner emotional lives.

Nick’s Equine Experience

For example, we asked a 24-year-old male client to catch and halter a horse. As soon as the horse took a step toward him, there was an immediate connection. Nick was able to place the halter on the horse but struggled in getting the horse to walk around the arena. He said that this horse reminded him of himself as “stubborn.” Nick participated in an exercise called “Build an Obstacle.” Each of the group members in equine-assisted psychotherapy built an obstacle that resembled a barrier in their life.

Nick built an obstacle that represented his father’s suicide. He started to walk his horse towards his obstacle, but the horse stopped. Nick turned and walked back to the horse and pet it slowly. He said that he was trying to gain the trust of his horse. After spending some time with the horse, Nick finally got the horse to move and go over the jump. Nick came to a second obstacle that represented relationships. The horse stopped, and Nick turned, talked, and petted the horse in hopes of getting him to move again.

The Benefits of an Equine Therapy Program

Our example of Nick shows that there can be many benefits and learning experiences when working in an equine therapy program. Some other advantages include:

  • Increased self-awareness
  • Improved communication skills
  • Greater trust in oneself and others
  • Enhanced problem-solving abilities
  • Stronger relationships
  • More confidence
  • Greater insight into one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors
  • Increased physical activity and improved coordination
  • A sense of accomplishment and pride
  • Fun

If you or someone you know might benefit from equine-assisted psychotherapy, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a mental health professional at The Ranch Tennessee to get started.

Equine Therapy Program at The Ranch Tennessee

The Ranch Tennessee and Equine Healing Solutions (EHS) work together to provide this therapeutic experience. The satisfaction surveys in this program are excellent. See the magic of horses yourself by contacting The Ranch for equine-assisted psychotherapy. At The Ranch Tennessee, you will find experiential programs that can enhance your healing and experience. These programs include:

Call our addiction treatment experts at 1.844.876.7680 for more information about any of our experiential treatment programs.

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