Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT)
Equine therapy focuses on teaching people how to interact with horses. Since horses are pack animals, they can sense and respond to other creatures’ feelings. Specifically, they can detect when a person feels scared, angry, happy, sad, or nervous.
As prey animals, horses have an instinctual fear of danger and can read the intentions of another from a great distance. This means they can accurately tell what we are really feeling, even if we are not yet aware of it. Thus, they act as a mirror to what is going on in our lives, giving instant, honest feedback which is a catalyst to our healing.
Horses are masters at self-regulation or the ability to ‘ground’ themselves after any difficulty or trauma. Being close to their calm energy can allow us to do the same, eventually incorporating this learning into our everyday life.
The use of EAT has roots in antiquity, and EAT, applied to physical health issues in modern form, dates to the 1960s where equine assisted riding therapy was commonly used for mentally and physically disabled people and people with autism. Modern use of horses for mental health treatment is young and dates to the 1990s.
Equine-assisted psychotherapy does not necessarily involve riding, but may include grooming, feeding and ground exercises. Therapists work with one or more clients and one or more horses in an experiential manner to help the clients learn about themselves and others, while processing or discussing the client's feelings, behaviours, and patterns.
EAT and mental health
Many people who struggle with mental health issues (often dual-diagnosed with drug or alcohol addictions) experience significant feelings of inadequacy and diminished self-confidence. Working with horses in a structured therapy setting can help boost their sense of confidence and self-worth. As they establish a relationship with the horse, it allows them to gain the horse’s trust and unconditional love. For many, this is a very new experience – one that can be powerfully affirming. They often feel an incredible sense of accomplishment during their equine therapy sessions.
Due to their sheer size and physical presence the horse can incite different reactions and emotions from us depending upon our life experiences. This creates a natural opportunity to examine the power dynamics that exist within our relationships.
Horses are naturally curious, social creatures who do not worry about ego, looks or qualifications and have no ulterior motives. They stay in the present moment and provide unconditional acceptance, a major factor in the healing process.
Horses offer the person a non-judging relationship, which can help a person struggling with the negative relationship consequences from their addiction to rebuild their confidence without fear of criticism.
Horses give immediate feedback: because horses can sense a person’s feelings and respond accordingly, they can serve as a mirror that the person can use to see and understand feelings they may not even be aware of.
What to expect
What a typical EAT session at QUINTA DA FE (FAITH RETREATS™) would look like depends on how comfortable and experienced you are with horses. They are big animals, and we want you to be safe around them. Safety will always be number 1. The facilitator will explain to you what you need to know.
A session could simply be taking the horse for a walk, grooming the horse, or taking it into the paddock to do some exercises together. Every interaction with the horse can trigger a lot of subtle reactions within you. The facilitator is there for you to examine, understand and help you to process these reactions.
If you are not familiar with horses, fear is a common felt feeling. Be open, do not try to hide your fear. These sessions are a chance to open up to any feelings that may arise!
At QUINTA DA FE (FAITH RETREATS™) we are proud to have a gentle herd of animals and two special horses to support your recovery, they are part of our team. The power of animals – particularly the graceful, gentle understanding found in horses – may be the key to helping you finally overcome your mental health issues and addictions once and for all.
Once you meet the horses together with one of the facilitators, we encourage you to take refuge in their presence whenever you are in need of silent support, someone to soothe your emotions or just a warm shoulder to cry on. You will be astonished by the therapeutic effect of their presence.