By: Lindsay Brim June 28, 2016
Some may wonder, how can horses really help people?
When our clients participate in either our Equine Assisted Learning model or Equine Assisted Psychotherapy model, they are stepping outside of their comfort zone and having experiences with the horses and our team that teach them about themselves and life.
Have you heard the quote, “a comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing grows there”? We see this time and time again and it is a beautiful thing when a person moves in the direction away from their comfort zone and their personal growth happens right before our eyes.
I mentioned two models in which we conduct our equine assisted activities and I want to share a bit more about each one:
Equine Assisted Learning
We are certified to conduct life skill individual and group sessions (60-90 minutes) as well as workshops (up to 3 hours). These sessions work great for youth as well as for individuals who may be just a bit lost on their life path.
Most of our clients for EAL have not suffered much trauma in their lives but need help learning important life skills that will make them grow and thrive.
We focus on the following areas and always curtail our sessions to the individual client(s) needs.
• Communication and body language
• Self confidence
• Creative thinking and problem solving
I’ll share a simple example of a session with the goal of improving communication and leadership skills with a group of youth (3-4 kids per group).
Example EAL Session:
We would have 4 horses out in a field with no halters on. We would ask the group (of 3-4 kids) to choose a horse after observing them for a while. Once they all agreed on the horse to use, we would ask them why they chose that particular horse. We know our horses so well so it is always interesting to hear their perceptions about the horses. Their perception also typically gives us info about them as well. After that, we would hand them the halter and lead rope and ask them to catch their horse and lead it over to us. They always look at us and say, “wait, I don’t know how to do that”. Our response is always the same, “just try a few things and if it works for your group and the horse, it works for us”. In our work, there is no wrong or right way (much different from teaching traditional horsemanship). Our team is there to step in if safety is a factor. Right away, we see who is taking the lead by who is the most vocal about the horse choice and who reaches for the halter. We watch how they approach the horse (non-verbal communication) and how they work together in a group to catch the horse (creative thinking and problem solving). You see who steps up and who falls back. You see who stands behind the horse and seems unaware of their own safety (our team is watching). You see who is loud and aggressive on the approach verse who is calm, quiet and respectful. Sometimes the horses stand there to be caught and sometimes they walk away and make it more challenging. Very often a horse will move away from a lot of pressure and people are the same, this is something we discuss. If the group runs towards the horse, the horse is going to startle and run away. We discuss the importance of relationship building and how much non- verbal communication plays into that. We are able to point out body language the kids portray to the horse that is most often the same body language that is portrayed to other people. Once the horse is caught, how do they get it to move? What kinds of cues and body language do they portray to the horse to ask it to move, with ASK being a keyword. Horses make you earn their respect before they will go a long with you. Aren’t people the same? With horses we have a stop zone, relationship zone and friend zone. With people we have the same zones, but it is easier to point out with a 1,200 pound animal. The sense of accomplishment that follows these sessions is overwhelming. The coolest part is that through the experience, they have taught themselves which is very different from traditional teaching. That is what makes our work “stick” with our clients because they are teaching themselves with a little guidance from our team and 4 legged friends.
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy
For those who have suffered trauma in their lives and are currently in counseling or if counseling has not worked for them in the past, we offer Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (don’t let this big word be scary, it just means counseling). For this model, our team of Equine specialists works a long side of a licensed mental health counselor (60-90 minutes). We can work with individuals or a family unit. At our farm we are currently working with veterans who suffer from PTSD, women and youth who have suffered trauma/abuse.
In these sessions we focus on the following depending on the client’s goals:
• Anger management
• Self-worth/self confidence
• Problem solving
• Joy/ Being in the moment
Below is an sample example of what a session may look like.
Example EAP Session:
Horses will be out in the fields with no halters on. We ask the client to take their time observing them and when they are ready, choose a horse that they are drawn to. Once a choice is made, we ask what made them choose that horse and it is always interesting to hear their responses. Often times a horse who is on the outside of the herd will be chosen and we will hear that is how they feel in their family or friend unit (right away we are learning about them). We observe the approach and all of the same things I described in the earlier example above. We will then have them walk the horse to the round pen where we have a bunch of “stuff”. Pool noodles, hula hoops, pvc pipes, rope, buckets, etc. We will ask the client to, “build and obstacle that the horse can go over”. They can use any of the items provided and build it anywhere in the round pen that they choose. We have seen it all from elaborate obstacle courses (even though we never say course) to one pole on the ground. All of this tells us about this person! Next, we ask them to label the obstacle something in their life that they are struggling with currently. They can tell us or not what the label is, that is their choice. Once the obstacle is labeled, they are asked to get the horse to go over the obstacle but there are rules:
• They cannot lead the horse
• They cannot touch the horse in any way
• They cannot bribe the horse
Typically, we get that “deer in the headlight” look and get asked a bunch of questions but we provide the same answer as I stated above, “just try a few things, our equine specialists are here to ensure safety and will step in if needed”. Do they try the same thing over and over again that is clearly not working? Do they do some really awesome problem solving or get angry? How do they effectively non verbally communicate with the horse? I could literally go on and on about how impactful this activity is and the success stories we have had at our farm with our clients.
This work changes lives. Our mission is to promote personal growth, hope and healing through horses. If you know of anyone who is in need of our services, we would love to have them become part of our herd.