Hi everyone,
I thought I would start a discussion about the use of Equine Assisted Therapy, Equine Facilitated Learning, Equine Assisted Personal Development, call it what you will. I am interested to hear people's experiences of involvement in this either as a therapist, 'horse professional' or 'client'. I am thinking mainly about working with horses on the ground rather than riding, but I would love to hear your thoughts, feelings, ideas about this fascinating subject.

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I have not participated in this, but before our barn moved this woman that ran a business like this used to come to our barn with her students. These were kids that had a history of violence in their homes, anger issues, and just other social issues. They would work with the horses on the ground, no riding. They would walk them, groom them, etc. Just listening to some of her stories was very inspiring. She would pick certain horses for certain students based on the challenge each horse would present. It was fascinating.
Hi, thanks for this. I think it is interesting to hear that people are running this type of business from someone else's barn or stables. I have always tended to think of it in terms of needing to have a place with land to do it, but I guess that isn't the case.
My trainer and her fiance run an EAP program, and it is a field that I would like to go into someday. They are certified by Greg Kersten (OK Corral) and work with a lot of different people - autistic, ADD, married couples, kids, etc. None of the sessions are mounted, but center around exercises and then have a reflection time. They also have a follow-up program without the actual therapist there so that clients can continue on a regular basis.

I would love to hear other peoples' experiences with EAP! It is something that not many people in the horse world officially know about, but I think most of us have experienced the healing qualities of horses.
I haven't heard of Greg Kersten but I will look him up. I'm really interested to know how different people run these types of sessions. You are right, it seems that the therapy world is becoming more aware of this way of working than the horse world, but there are so many ways it could go. Lots of horse people think their horses have a problem, when really it's them causing or at least co-creating it! Isn't that just the way in so many relationships?!
I have gained so much at a personal self-awareness level through working with my current horse and I'm fascinated to hear other people's experiences. I have discovered that he is quite a pushy and dominant character (you only have to see him with other horses to spot this) but he also has huge fear issues, holds in his emotions and then explodes when a small thing triggers him into a panic. So he appears on the surface to be quite brave and laid back, but underneath he's ready to run at the drop of a hat (metaphorically and literally). And when I look back on my own life ... I'm generally quite confident but I get scared when taken out of my comfort zone (just like my horse) and I tend to allow pushy and dominant people to push me around - so all in all a bit of a recipe for disaster when faced with this type of horse!! And I've learned a lot of this the hard way! ;-)

As you say, most of us experience the healing qualities of horses, but not all of us recognise them as such! For me, the amazing thing is the immediate feedback you receive from a horse. It's a well known thing that horses can tell when you are scared, but it's so much more subtle than that.

I'm sure this is why they work so well with people as 'mirrors' for human emotion and behaviour. You can't lie to them and they won't join in the 'game'.
Thanks to you both for your input - I appreciate it!
Thanks for starting this discussion, Fiona! I am very interested in EAL/EAP, and wonder if anyone knows the proper certification one would need to practice in this area (in Canada)? It seems like such a great way to combine helping people and working with horses.
Laura, thank you so much for your informative reply! I'm a bit relieved to hear that about the certification, as I saw some courses advertised for about $7,000. Yes, what you say about experience with horse psychology is perhaps the key ingredient here. I have been riding and working with horses for 20 years, but intermittently. I also have a PhD in eating disorders, but it's not a clinical degree (I'm not sure if I would gear my program to people with eating disorders or not). Perhaps what I need to do is work at a good stable to get more experience for a while? Or how would you recommend getting started? Also, do you know of any grants or funding that are available in Canada? Right now I'm working at a university in Halifax and have limited funds!
Any advice would be most welcome!
Hi Fiona, I was involved in a teens at risk program many years ago, street kids. The horse program was part of an integrated camp. Kids with behavioural , drug and abuse problems. Bloody tough job!!! It was on a working farm, so they had to run the farm. Of course they had been dried out before they came to us so we didn't have to deal with that can of worms. The horses were ,of course the most popular part of the program. The kids soon worked out that the horses where not going to judge them at all and they all started to make a bond with them. It was a riding and breeding program, To many Holy rollers for me though!! I think the program would have been more successful if it was more secular. Some of these street kids hadn't seen to much to believe in a god. Drug addicted at 14 , prostituting themselves at 15. Being prey to scummy people doesn't give them faith in mankind. Some of the other councillors would bang on about god all the time , and you could see the kids eyes just glaze over. Over the years as a coach though, I have been involved with Canteen ( KIDS WITH CANCER), Do you have R.D.A. ? ( RIDING FOR DISABLED) For anyone wanting to go into this sort of thing, here's a heads up, you need to be pretty tough mentally. Its BLOODY HARD!! You have to be very secure in your skin, it can be heart breaking soul destroying work sometimes, you have moments of absolute joy , but most of the time it's just a hard slog. Not so much a job as a vocation! Cheers Geoffrey
Ooh great, I thought this thread had died a death, but it seems it's been revived! Fantastic. Thanks folks.
Yeah i's a really grey area about how to make sure that people who run this sort of thing are 'fit for purpose' if you like. I can clearly see the advantages to having the horse skills and awareness of horse behaviour, but then by 'certifying' people it becomes almost an issue of control, especially if you insist that they must follow a particular program and gain a particular certificate. Like Laura, I'm not EAGALA trained, but it does seem pretty clear that if you want to be then you sign up to their ways of doing things, so that you know what you are signing up to from the beginning and you work within their model. Flip side of that though is that it also worries me that anyone who has a field, a couple of horses and an intention to 'help' people can set themselves up in this area and start working with some potentially quite damaged or vulnerable people.

Geoffrey, I think you are one of life's realists and it's certainly very true that it isn't all 'helping people' and being altruistic. The religious angle is an interesting one and it becomes a question of who you are doing it for in that case - if you have people with no religious beliefs involved in your program, then surely you are not being truly person-centred? At the end of the day, you need specific skills to work with the kinds of people you mention and that takes training and experience. You need to be aware of your own 'stuff' too and have support for yourself. Definitely not easy!




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