*This article is merely intended to be reflective and exploratory on an equine topic, and is not to be considered expertise in any way. For a more in-depth understanding of equine psychotherapy, please visit the EAGALA website.
Equine therapy. You’ve heard of it. You can find a equine therapy center within driving distance of almost any major city. You know this therapy can be very helpful to children with autism, physical ailments, and mental disabilities. The words "equine therapy" conjure up images of a big slow draft horse or a sweet fuzzy pony with overjoyed kids on their backs. You may even recognize the term hippotherapy.
But did you know that horses are also increasingly being used in mental and emotional therapy? It’s called equine psychotherapy, and it’s a rapidly growing field that I just recently learned of. EAGALA, the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, is an international organization “dedicated to improving the mental health of individuals, families, and groups” (EAGALA website). The focus is not on the physical needs of a client, but on the psychological needs.
I was thrilled to discover this blossoming method of counseling, as I have always felt that surreal connection between horse and human but have never quite been able to put my finger on it or known how to utilize it. Thankfully, the founders of EAGALA have.
Equine psychotherapy taps into the idea that horses have a way of understanding us even when we don’t understand ourselves. They seem to know when something is off, and they often project our own emotion right back to us. (Ex: ever been around your horse when frustrated or in a bad mood and noticed he seemed exceptionally cranky as well?) Equine psychotherapy allows the horse to bring to the surface whatever emotion or concern we are trying to stuff away, so that it can deal with it and move on.
Could anything be more natural, more organic, more magical at the same time? Imagine a therapy session with a silent, wise, and beautiful counselor. He doesn’t say anything, and neither do you, but somehow he knows exactly how you’re feeling. The connection is irresistible. The results are undeniable.
I am still learning more and more about this growing field. Please share your experiences with horse therapy of all kinds- I would love to hear them!