Equine Assisted Therapy and Taking a Chance

We all are (at least a little) hesitant to sky dive-right?  Partly because of the unknown and uncertainty from the jump to getting back down to the earth.  So what does sky diving have to do with Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP)?

Sky Diving and EAL and EAP both require inquiry before the ‘leap of faith’! Equine work may look intriguing, BUT—what do you need to know to be comfortable enough to sign up for a workshop or a therapy session? Is it worth your time and money? What are the benefits?

This is written to share some information  about the structure and the benefits of equine work so that you will feel comfortable to ask questions or try this remarkable experience for yourself.

I have been facilitating equine assisted learning and psychotherapy for five years now. I often hear things like this:

Equine Assisted Learning

Horses accept us for who we are. They don’t care about our hair, our bank account, the argument we had with the children on the way to school. They react to what we bring with us in the moment.

“I didn’t want to do this when I first came, I didn’t think I could learn anything from playing     with a horse…. boy, was I wrong.”

“It’s not magic working with horses but if there was such a thing–this is what it would be…”

“I don’t think people realize what this work is about because if they did they would all be doing it…”

I have had people who were so terrified of horses that they stood behind me the entire first session. Those same people are catching a horse and putting their horse’s halter on by themselves by the third session.  Those same people walk taller, speak their needs more assertively, and, overwhelmingly, report more frequent feelings of confidence and inner strength as they continue to work with their horse partner.

Sometimes people who have never been near a horse are overwhelmed by the size and nature of their horse partner. This creates a sense of awe and wonder around the work.  This is enhanced by being in the natural environment and increased awareness of emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical connection within you. Neurobiological research can explain this, but the in-the-moment phenomena is something else.

Sometimes a sense of wonder might cause you to want to reach up and throw your arms around that horse’s neck. I have seen that happen and see horses lean into that hug and stand totally still until the hug ended. Many times there are tears when there is a realization that your horse trusts you.  Sometimes a story is whispered to a horse that has never been voiced to another human….and the horse listened, didn’t judge or criticize, or try to fix it.

“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”     -Winston Churchill 

History records the Greeks sending their wounded soldiers to the stables before sending them back into battle– to heal mentally after physical wounds healed. Today research is confirming that work with an equine partner and a trained professional team provides benefits of improved social relationships, development of resiliency in coping skills, problem-solving, communication skills, self-awareness, and creates lasting self-confidence and increases the ability to practice empathy, trust, and mindfulness.

So what’s the difference between Equine Assisted Learning and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy?  Today’s blog is about Equine Assisted Learning (EAL).  

Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) – A Short Course

EAL is about learning how to deepen or develop self-awareness around a skill or set of skills. Here is what happens at our workshops.

We have a team approach for EAL. I am a licensed therapist and a certified equine specialist. There is also an equine professional who is also a certified equine specialist.  We work together with differing knowledge bases to offer the best experience for our participants and for our horses. This model allows us to provide an environment that optimizes safety and interaction for each of our participants and their horse partners.

The Order of the Workshop

A group of women has gathered at the barn and a topic is presented. We begin the workshop by presenting the topic and introducing mindfulness, choice, and intentionality. We talked about the pitfalls of  holiday expectations.  We discussed self-care, making choices that honor ourselves and those we are in relationship with and how to examine the activities we choose to indulge in during the season. Then we walked to the paddock and observed the herd of horses.

 Several of our group had some horse experience, some had none, and some had not been around them for many years– it does not matter.  No riding, no horsemanship, just being…

 The afternoon ended with an activity that highlighted each participant’s holiday plans. Horses and women were paired up to do the activity.  Adding the horse to the mix makes the difference.  Horses provide that extra dimension of the unexpected and will provide feedback and perspective.

Hoss checking in.

Horses are a big presence and bring their individual personalities to the event, just as the relationships we live in will do.  Horses also allow us to see out-side-of-the box answers to our routines that no longer bring us the pleasure they once did or to see fun in situations that we dread.  Horses help us to understand spontaneity and to embrace the unpredictable nature of even the best laid plans.

After the activity, the group walked their horse partners out to the paddock, took their time saying goodbye and after a short checkout, everyone headed home with new insight and things to think about.

The truly incredible thing about equine work is that each person comes away with  new insight to their situation.  There is a directness that happens even in group work because it is done within individual partnerships with a horse.

Take Aways from the Workshop

Here is feed back from our participants:

“I didn’t know what to expect… the afternoon unfolded in the most delightful of ways.”

“My take-away from today— Mindfulness.  I will approach the next 49 days (until January 1st) more mindful of tasks that come with the holidays and how I react to them…Deep breaths! So grateful for Charlotte and Lisa sharing their gifts and insight and healing.  You do awesome things!  Thanks!”

“So enjoyed the afternoon with all these dear women and the horses, of course.  Being new at this type of thing, I wasn’t really sure what I would feel, or what my horse would feel about me.  It wasn’t until one of you pointed out some fascinating points of horse behavior about my horse, that I got it. The direction of the ears, his ‘checking in on me’ when someone else came up, and how he simply accepted me.  It was amazing to learn how the horses react to things around them, and to each other, and to us in their spaces.  I would love to work with them more.”

“I was a bit nervous because I am not savvy about horses.  Yet this experience taught me quite a bit…. The fact that we were outside on a beautiful day making friends with a 1000-pound animal was exciting but also relaxing…My sweet horse easily took my direction and it was as though nothing I asked him to do was too much.  I loved his curiosity as well as that of the other horses.  Their behavior was so interesting especially after they finished working with us.  They all put their heads together in a circle as if to say, “We’re all here and we are fine.”  It was really cool.  I enjoyed it so much….

 My team and I love the work we do.  We know that talking and working with an equine partner adds new dimension to just talking.  We know that all of us are wired for connection and in some way, horses give us such a deep feeling for that connection that awakens pieces of ourselves that sometimes go unnoticed. There are lots of reasons for why horses enhance our learning experience–come try it for yourself.

We do workshops throughout the year. Please watch here for information on upcoming events! And watch for next week’s post on Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.

Learning to just be enough is a gift from the horses.


There is something about a horse that is an experience for which there are no words….”        Beryl Markham