Equine-assisted therapy (also sometimes referred to as “equine therapy”) is a form of experiential adventure therapy in which patients interact with horses under the guidance and supervision of qualified professionals.
By taking the therapeutic experience out of the traditional office environment — and by focusing the patient’s attention on interacting with one of nature’s most majestic creatures, equine-assisted therapy allows both patients and professionals to gain insights into the patient’s behaviors and motivations. This innovative form of experiential therapy teaches people about themselves, allows recognition of dysfunctional patterns of behavior, and helps define healthy relationships.
Equine-assisted therapy occurs in a small-group setting, facilitated by a certified equine-assisted therapist and a trained professional therapist. The process involves establishing a relationship with a horse on the ground and then evolves into the nurturing of that relationship, which may or may not culminate in actual riding in a contained area.
Activities in the process include ‘joining up’ with the horse, grooming, longeing, or vaulting, and group experiential exercises. Through interaction between the horse and the patient, the trained professionals ask questions based upon what is being revealed through the ‘relationship.’ Individuals may receive one-on-one focus within the group setting.
At the closing of the equine-assisted therapy session, patients are provided time to process the experience with the therapists and integrate the insights into their treatment plan.
Horses are typically non-judgmental and have no expectations or motives. Therefore, a patient can practice congruency without the perceived fear of rejection. The horse assists in making patients aware of their emotional state as the horse responds in reaction to their behavior.
Through working with the horse, equine-assisted therapy patients can gain insight into their feelings, behaviors, patterns, congruency, boundaries, and stumbling blocks to recovery. The process can be a very effective adjunct to treatment.
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