SROL Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s):

1- Why horses?

2- If I have never been around horses and/or am afraid of them…can I still do the programs? 

3- Are there any riding activities involved? 

4- Do you have to have experience handling horses? 

5- How does the horse know what I’m thinking or feeling? 

6- What’s the difference between EAL and EAP? 

7- Do the horses know the difference between EAL and EAP? 

8- Why should I try EAP versus seeing my therapist in the office? 

9- Why are there two people in the treatment team? 

10- Is the horse considered a therapist? 

11- If I have an emotional problem/trigger that won’t go away…how can the horses help?

12- How many sessions are needed before I see relief? 

13 – Can any horse do therapy work?

14 – Horses are large, powerful and can sometimes be dangerous so how do you handle safety concerns in the arena

 

*If we have not answered your question(s), please let us know and we can add to the list…

 

 

 

 

1- Why horses?

For decades, horses have been employed in therapeutic programs throughout the United States and have helped thousands of people overcome serious physical and emotional challenges.  The bond between horses and humans can be traced back over 35,000 years to the nomads and ancient civilizations.  As a symbol the horse is often associated with freedom and power and have assisted people to build and settle entire civilizations, they have fought beside us in countless wars and provided mobility and cartage in such a huge way that it changed the world for mankind.

 

In the 20th century research into the ability of the horse to assist with healing was initially focused on individuals with physical, mental or developmental handicaps.  As a “side effect” to this work practitioners began to notice and advocate for the ability of the horses to help these people with social, emotional and behavioral disorders.  Research shows that people experience many physiological benefits while interacting with horses, including lowered blood pressure, increased beta-endorphin levels and decreased stress levels.  The heart of a horse is 5-7 times larger than ours and according to the Heart Math Institute, the heart has a larger electromagnetic field than the brain.  Just by being in their presence horses help us to access a deeper understanding and experience of heart-based relationships and power.

 

The size and power of the horse can be naturally intimidating to many people, this alone can create a perfect opportunity to overcome fear and learn confidence. To accomplish a task with the horses despite of these fears creates resilience and provides wonderful metaphors to fall back on when dealing with other intimidating or challenging situations in life.  Horses are very much like humans in that they are social creatures and have distinct personalities, attitudes and moods – what works well with one horse may not work at all with another, much like that of our human relationships.

 

Horses have no agenda with us, no hidden motives.  Horses have a distinctly amazing ability to mirror and reflect the exact internal landscape of our intentions on a moment to moment basis derived from what our body language is telling them. One of the fastest ways to engage the brain in changing any behavior or emotion is to stay in the present moment.  Horses only exist in the present moment – while they do have “memory” they do not engage any focused energy to the past or the future.    When working with the horses they actively engage you in their presence and the present moment as it is pretty hard to concentrate on a past/future thought with 1000 pounds trotting toward you… Horses have gentle spirits and offer us unlimited patience for us to understand, accept and become truly present in our lives.

 

2- If I have never been around horses and/or am afraid of them…can I still do the programs

Yes!  You do not need any prior experience with horses to participate and/or benefit.  Horses are, however, large animals and can generate fear in many people so it is understandable that you might be leery of them.  We suggest that, when in close proximity to a horse or horses, that you remain aware of your personal space and all that is within it.  This simple focus of attention should keep you out of harms way!

 

Also, we will say here that all of the horses selected for EAL / EAP at Spring reins of life are essentially gentle in nature. They are not prone to kicking or biting – yet at the same time, in a given situation a horse may choose to react on its own accord which is why we promote the idea of being aware of your surroundings at all times.  You will be able to see, hear or feel any aggressive behavior as it develops.

 

3- Are there any riding activities involved? 

No, all exercises are ground-based (un-mounted) and are designed to give the horses a level of freedom to express themselves and interact with the client(s).  While there are numerous emotional, mental and physical benefits to exploring horsemanship and riding horses, the focus of EAL / EAP is based on allowing the horses to be loose in the arena or pasture in order to give them the largest platform to mirror and reflect what is going on internally for the client(s) or group during the ground based exercises.

 

If you are interested in pursuing horsemanship or equestrian riding we do offer some opportunities for a deeper exploration and relationship with horses please see our sections on Adjunct EAL or EAP Services.  Also, if after working with the horses on the ground, you would like to pursue a riding relationship with horses; we can certainly recommend reputable riding programs / instructors to continue your equestrian journey.

 

4- Do you have to have experience handling horses? 

No prior experience in handling horses is necessary.  In fact, in many cases it is very therapeutically revealing to interact and work with the horses without knowing how to.  Oftentimes, the horses will leave clues or give signals that guide you in the right direction to accomplishing goals if you are honest with your desires or fears and then open to receiving their feedback.  For example, if you are honestly afraid of them and you don’t hide that fear, generally there will be a horse that will step forward and gently teach you to trust them.  Both the beauty and power of this work is that the horses don’t care if you have any horse experience.  If you present yourself to them, they are glad to teach you, guide you and give that experience.

 

5- How does the horse know what I’m thinking or feeling? 

Horse’s survival largely depends on their keen perceptions to detect subtle changes in their environment.  They can sense changes in your heart rate, respiration and even “intentions”.  They are very in-tune to your energy levels and react by mirroring your internal emotional landscape.

 

Many experts in animal communication stress that the animal does not read your words, language or even tone – what they do respond acutely to is our thought patterns, mental imagery and our body language.  Body language communication is pretty universal as it rises above linguistics, culture, status quo, etc.

 

If you are angry in your body language (as well as your heart rate, respiratory and thought sequences) but attempt to express pleasant words and tone verbally; the horse will only read the physical and the emotional vibes that your anger is creating and sending.  One may think that the horse is “reading your mind” as you attempt to mask the effects of anger, however the horse never bought into the façade in the first place, all the horse sees and reacts to at that point is  the truthful signs which reveal that you are really angry underneath it all.

 

6- What’s the difference between EAL and EAP

Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) incorporates horses experientially for both personal and professional growth and learning (life skills, coaching and self mastery).  It is a collaborative effort between a mental health professional, horse professional, the horses and other specialized professionals working with the clients to address learning and professional development goals.  Whether EAL services are sought out by an individual, a group, an organization, a collegiate program or a corporate entity – our facilitators will customize each workshop to meet the needs and goals of the client(s).  Exercises are then created and implemented with these goals in mind.  Post workshop assessments, as well as a 30 day follow up period are offered to the client in order to ensure our best success.

 

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) incorporates horses experientially for emotional growth, behavioral learning and overall healing. It is a collaborative effort between a mental health professional and a horse professional working with the clients and horses to address treatment goals.  EAP is successful in treating emotional and behavioral disorders, anxiety, depression, trauma recovery, stress and anger management, defiance, aggression, at-risk-youth, substance abuse, eating disorders and much more.  The key to this success is the horses and the opportunity given to the clients to develop their healing from within.

 

Reading the above definitions, you may notice a distinct similarity between the two.  These terms are labels intended to describe a type of service being provided.  In the EAGALA Model, whether our focus is on providing psychotherapy, learning, coaching, counseling, training or educational services, we are able to decide which modality best fits the type of service being provided or desired.  The model and standards of the work remain in the same area, the horses treat either with the same honesty and integrity (which is why we have an MHP present at all sessions), and the results in both are equally effective.  What truly differentiates the terms are the population being served, the goals/objectives of the services which have been agreed to in the contract/informed consent and the focus of facilitation based on the agreed upon goals.

 

7- Do the horses know the difference between EAL and EAP? 

Horses do not know the difference.  They will interact with you, given the different ground-based exercises, without an agenda or any judgment.  Sometimes in an EAL (Equine Assisted Learning) workshop, if there are emotional issues that are below the surface, the horses will go to work to bring those aspects to light.  Which is also why it’s good that we require a mental health professional present at all EAL workshops.  The horses are barometers of truth and well-being, they want to solve issues.

 

For example, if during an EAL (Equine Assisted Learning) corporate training with the purpose of teambuilding there happen to be some underlying resentments and/or power struggles going on within the team, the horses will be sure to point these subtleties out.  Also we should state that oftentimes in an EAP (Equine Assisted Psychotherapy) session there are many opportunities for learning and coaching within the treatment process.  To us humans there is difference between EAL and EAP – but to the horses, it’s really all the same.

 

 

8- Why should I try Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) versus seeing my therapist in the office? 

Most psychotherapies are focused on verbal content while Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) work emphasizes the non-verbal component of therapeutic work.  EAP takes you out of your element and challenges ones conception of what therapy should be, making it easier to let down barriers and allow ones self to simply interact with the horses.  One of the major premises in EAP work is that the non-verbal patterns provide a rich source of clinical information.   Horses serve as a sensitive biofeedback sensors that continuously highlight the non-verbal patterns that ensue during a session.  Therapists doing this work often note how deeply buried issues which can take weeks or months to be addressed in long-term therapy often comes to a resolution within a few short sessions with EAP.  Unlike typical psychotherapy, the behavioral rehearsal component with EAP lends the added layer of allowing clients to make changes in behavioral patterns “in the moment.”

 

Also the nature of EAP offers space for the client to make certain self discoveries and realizations (with the help of the horses) that seem to be more effective than being guided to these decisions by someone else. EAP work can include office sessions but always predominantly consists of ground-based exercises with horses.  One other aspect to the experiential side of EAP is that the client is actively engaged in the process, many people learn lasting change via experience as opposed to conversation.  The horses and their nature, the outdoor element, and the experiential side of doing the activities; all combine to engage the client in different ways than what might take place in a typical office “talk therapy” setting.

 

 

9- Why are there two people in the treatment team? 

Actually, there are three entities within the treatment team (2 humans + the horses)!  The dyadic human team is vital to the success of the treatment team.  The Equine Specialist (ES) focuses on the horses while the Mental Health Professional (MHP) focuses largely on the humans.  Both are striving to notice all the non-verbal and metaphorical signs that take place between the horses and the clients and two sets of eyes are always better than one.  The Mental Health Professional is a licensed therapist and is able to professionally navigate any issues that come up within a session.  The Equine Specialist has extensive background working with horses, and generally knows horse behavior to the point where when something “unique” happens they can discuss this with the MHP to determine if it is something to process with the client.

 

10- Is the horse considered a therapist? 

Absolutely, the horse is a key member of the triad therapy team.  The horse provides a constant source of information that both the Equine Specialist (ES) and the Mental Health Professional (MHP) are deciphering.  Without the horse’s keen perception, awareness and metaphoric feedback, the therapy process can take much longer and be a more arduous task to get to the root of issues, behavioral deficits, and both personal and professional roadblocks.

 

With the help of the horses even deeply hidden emotions and issues are able to surface at a rapid pace and therefore can be explored and processed in an emotionally safe environment.  In fact, we would not be so successful at this work without the powerful input from the horses.  We as the human portion of the treatment team rely heavily upon the horses for their initial assessment of the situation, their opinions and their honest feedback.  It is amazing how “bulls eye” correct they are.  Sometimes the horses will bring issues to light that the client(s) is not consciously aware of (or in denial about) and so the client will push this away; and that is fine, we just simply let it go.  We have learned that if this issue is of importance to the client’s development, the horses will continue to shine light on it until it makes sense to the rest of us.  The horses are the “E” in EAP and EAL!

 

11- If I have a recurring behavior or pattern that is destructive to myself or others…how can the horses help?

Horses can help by setting the stage for allowing a non-judgmental place to explore feelings, thoughts, and issues.  Horses facilitate the process of gaining insight and resolving emotional problems by bringing, to the fore, patterns that very quickly allow the treatment team to identify core issues, beliefs and maladaptive patterns that fuel or sustain emotional problems.  This process occurs as a result of ground based exercises, set up by the treatment team, where horses and clients interact.  For example, oftentimes people are unaware of their own patterns and habits.  Horses help us to discover these hidden patterns by showing a physical parallel to our behaviors and act as mirrors for what is occurring for us.  Research shows that we can even affect changes in the horses’ heart rate – when our heart rate increases or decreases so does theirs.  Once new insights into recurring destructive patterns occur we work as a team (facilitators, client(s) and the horses) to implement behavioral rehearsal strategies to replace old patterns with new healthier ones.

 

12- How many sessions are needed before I see relief or results? 

This is largely based on individual differences. However, most people report relief even after just an initial session.  Within minutes a client is willing to trust and accept the feedback from the horse, as opposed to weeks or months with a human coach or therapist.  This is mostly due to the notion that the client is able to rely on the horses input as honest and constructive, realizing that they have no hidden agenda or motives on the situation.  Part of session / workshop planning involves collaboratively discussing how to tailor your situation to address the current presenting issues.  Length of sessions varies greatly based on the specific needs of the client.  This is one of the reasons why we do a pre-screening appointment before beginning the work with the horses; we enter into this relationship with a plan in mind.

 

Generally EAP (Equine Assisted Psychotherapy) sessions are scheduled as a one hour weekly session for 4 to 8 weeks, however all EAP session schedules are based on the best interests and needs of the client so this may vary one way or the other.  For the EAL (Equine Assisted Learning) workshops we offer full-day, half-day, multiple full days, or weekly (3 hours) sessions which is entirely based on the needs and schedule of the client, group or organization.  Positive results are possible in a very short time because the horses bring dynamic issues to light immediately so that they can be resolved.  It is impossible to cheat or fake your way through the activities with the horses involved, therefore the client is able to accept the challenge to resolve issues and to steadily move forward.

 

No matter what your EAL or EAP schedule winds up being, we have learned that it will be a faster route to success than most traditional coaching or therapeutic practices.  The horses have a way of really getting to the heart of a situation immediately and if you are willing to accept their cues, and work with them, then you are well on your way in a very short time.

 

13- Can any horse do EAL or EAP therapy work?

Yes!  Essentially we are relying on the inherent qualities of the horses’ base nature to capitalize upon and utilize these intuitive secrets to help people overcome adversity.  We know that stallions, mares, geldings, wild mustangs, miniature horses, donkeys, burros and mules are all equally successful at this work.  The qualities that we rely upon for this work are the natural gifts of the equine world so they don’t need any training to be there, they just are.  However we will state here that horses, just like people have jobs that they are good at and enjoy or not, you wouldn’t want to go into jumping and find a horse that hates to jump.

 

At SROL we work with our incoming horses on a step by step basis, each prospective 4 legged therapist has  time to  try out the EAP / EAL work and we are looking for signs of their natural ability, aptitude and enthusiasm for this work.  If we see that a particular horse is not enjoying the work or getting “fried” by it then we work with other horse venues to find a more suited job for that horse. So by the time clients meet the horses, we have already determined that the EAGALA model is their “dream job”.

 

It is recommended that horses used for EAL / EAP can live in the most natural state possible, such as spending much time in pasture, in a herd type setting, barefoot (if possible), and respected to freely express themselves.  We do not recommend using horses that are in poor health, unsound, or overly aggressive as they would not be in the best meditative state to help people.  Proper health care, veterinary care, supplements and natural horsemanship can bring an abused, neglected or sickened horse back into balance and in these cases; many turn out to be outstanding EAL / EAP horses.

 

 

14 – Horses are large, powerful and can sometimes be dangerous so how do you handle safety concerns in the arena? 

We recommend that you, when in the company of horses, that you be aware of your personal space at all times.  Horses are herd animals and they are very good at taking care of themselves and each other within the herd.  When you join their herd (the arena/workspace) we ask that you be mindful of the same thing.  To take care of yourself and each other. J

 

We originally prepared a list of safety rules to observe when working with horses and planned to display this list of “do’s and don’ts” in the arena and on this site.  However what we have learned from EAGALA and other EAL/EAP resources is that a list of safety rules does very little to actually promote safety and mainly inhibits the clients from actively engaging in the session.  All the rules seem to do is paralyze the space and progress of discovery, processing and learning.

 

Horses are, however, large animals and can generate fear in many people so it is understandable that you might be leery of them.  We suggest that, when in close proximity to a horse or horses, that you remain aware of your personal space and all that is within it.  This simple focus of attention should keep you out of harms way!

 

In addition to this, the horses at Spring Reins of Life are chosen for this work because they have shown an enthusiasm and aptitude for doing the EAL/EAP regimen.  They do understand what is going on, what is expected of them and appreciate the respect and freedom that is afforded them to openly express the truth.  We have seen that they do care about doing a good job and helping the people who seek their assistance.  This however does not imply that the horses will never display aggressive behavior.  Sometimes a “close call” (a warning shot fired by the horses) can serve as a great wake up call. For example, in an instance of physical outburst from a horse, it is invariably a response to the anger, defiance, aggression or forceful behavior stemming from the clients (whether EAL or EAP) where as expected the horses are mirroring the internal landscape of the moment.  This ‘hard to ignore’ outburst can open a profound doorway for exploration that will be very poignant and unforgettable.

 

In general, we know our horses are safe and in no way pose harm towards people.  We also know that as facilitators we have to keep the canvas blank in order to allow the process to work.  For the horses to do their job brilliantly, we must allow them to be horses 100% of the time.  (*2008, EAGALA Survey – in over 30,000 sessions world wide, only 5 reported needing any medical assistance, of those 5, only 2 required a visit to a doctor.  Based on these statistics we ascertain that the model is based on safe ground).

 

So the best safety advice we have is for everyone, including the horses themselves is to…pay attention!

 

*If we have not answered your question(s), please let us know and we can add to the list…