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Horses and healing

January 16, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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As a lifelong animal lover, equine therapy has always been something that I wanted to learn more about.  A few minutes listening to Patrick Dunn, MS, ICADC as he presented in a recent Addiction Professional webinar gave me much insight into this very topic.

His first comment about why he utilizes equine assisted therapy?  “It works, and it’s simple.”

One of goals of experiential therapy, in general, Dunn says is to move towards the development of the “whole” person who can connect with others in the following ways:

·        Cognitive – Rational Thinking

·        Emotional – Feeling Language

·        Behavioral – Intent = Execution

·        Spiritual – Life has Meaning

Another goal is to help clients rework the developmental stages they may be stuck in by re-experiencing and practicing in a safe therapeutic environment.

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP), as he refers to it, is mostly ground work with the horse.   The goal is not for the client to learn horsemanship skills, he says.  The model he follows for his work is the Eagala model which is solution-based and has been around since 1999.

Dunn says the role of the therapist in this type of therapy is:

·        To create and manage the space the therapeutic work is done in.

·        To observe the process of the clients and horses with little to no interruption.

·        To use clear, concise language to explain rules, expectations, and tasks.

·        To NOT do work for the client that they deserve to figure out on their own.

·        To empower the process of learning from not succeeding and creating their own solutions.

He explains the reasons why horses are beneficial in therapy: they are extremely observant and pick up so well on clients’ body language; they live in the present and are non-judgmental, meaning that they don’t care what happened yesterday or a year ago—they just care about how you are treating them here and now; they mirror the feelings of clients; give immediate feedback; and they can pick up on feelings that others can’t see.

Dunn describes examples of equine activities and says they can be as simple as observing herd dynamics or asking them to choose a horse that they feel comfortable standing next to and then having them explain why.

He says metaphors are extremely important in this type of therapy and it’s important to allow the clients to present and process their metaphors on their own.  Some examples include:

·        Unable to keep horses contained… boundaries

·        Frustration when peers or horses do not comply with intended direction… control

·        Feel like horses or peers are not doing what you say… communication or lack there of

·        Horses continue to move away… an opportunity to assess what type of energy or body language you are putting out



Shannon Brys

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