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

– Winston Churchill

What is Equine Assisted Therapy, Really?

In a small grassy paddock, still wet with dew, a white speckled horse is trotting around with her tail held high. As you approach the fence, she stops to look at you. Her breath is quick and she is momentarily wary of you. After a brief pause, she begins to walk towards you with slow, deliberate steps. Her ears are forward and her nostrils are flaring, reading you for clues about whether you are safe. As you reach out your hand, her breath steadies and her eyes soften. She drops her soft mouth into your hands to say hello again, and it is time to begin.

This magnificent creature is one of a new collective of animals that is helping therapists treat everything from addiction to autism to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Most of us are already aware of the invaluable benefit of dogs as helpers for individuals who are blind, deaf, diabetic, or epileptic. But we are only beginning to tap into the immense psychological benefits of working with horses.

The horse is the perfect mirror. By their very nature, they are highly emotional and intelligent beings. What they can show you about yourself can change your life.

Equine Assisted Therapy has been gaining recognition as a powerful approach to treatment that leads to profound healing and insight. Last year Selena Gomez opened up about her experience with Equine Assisted Therapy, and how it helped heal her anxiety and depression. She described Equine Assisted Therapy as “so beautiful… It was hard work, obviously… [But] a lot has changed. I feel a lot more centered, more accepting.”

So what makes horses such powerful healers?

The horse is the perfect mirror. By their very nature, they are highly emotional and intelligent beings. What they can show you about yourself can change your life.

As prey animals, they are vulnerable to attack. Safety is a priority to them. So to survive, they remain highly aware of their surroundings and in tune with their environment. So when someone walks into their space, they pay great attention to what that person is feeling and doing.

Horses see us for who we are, and they push us to be authentic and genuine.

Horses are not domestic like cats or dogs. They’re born wild and have to be tamed. You have to earn their trust. So the process of getting to know a horse is a highly unique opportunity to learn about relationships, communication, connection, and identity.

Horses are also highly social beings. The emotional part of their brain is very large and they form meaningful and complex relationships with other horses in their herd. When a person enters their space, the horses evaluate you for who you are in the moment. Horses can pick up on things we can’t. So when something is going on internally that you may be masking from friends, family, and colleagues, it won’t work in the arena. Horses see us for who we are, and they push us to be authentic and genuine.

Even if you feel intimidated by a horse’s size, and you walk up to him with a pounding heart and trembling hands, it is ok! I’ve seen one of our horses walk right up to a terrified child and drop his head down into the child’s chest for a reassuring hug. Our horses have an incredible gift for knowing what you need and for teaching you how to be your best self.

So how exactly does Equine Assisted Therapy work?

In all equine-related activities, including therapy, safety is the primary concern. In addition to the horses you’ll be working with, each session includes a team of two humans: a licensed Mental Health Therapist who is EAGALA certified (the gold standard for Equine Assisted Therapy) and an Equine Specialist. The Mental Health Therapist’s job is to work with you on your goals and focus on your healing and growth (Check out our EAGALA certified Therapists: Lynn Eskite-Tant, LCSW and Michelle Perry, PhD). The Equine Specialist is someone who has an extensive background with horses and knows our horses exceptionally well. Her role is to focus on the horses and what they are experiencing in response to your work. You can check out Ashley Basso, our Equine Specialist, here.

You may forget a conversation you had with your counselor or coach a few months later, but you won’t forget what happened when you stood in an arena with a group of horses.

This unique, team-based approach helps you learn about yourself and others by participating in activities with the horses on the ground. There is no riding involved, so it is much safer and you don’t have to have any prior experience with horses. Through structured activities, you are learning about the influence you have on the horses, the way they respond to you, and how that translates to life outside the arena.

How long does it take to start feeling better with Equine Assisted Therapy?

Equine Assisted Therapy uses the healing bond you build with the horses to facilitate change, and therapeutic results begin immediately. You may forget a conversation you had with your counselor or coach a few months later, but you won’t forget what happened when you stood in an arena with a group of horses.

Because of the intensity and effectiveness of Equine Assisted Therapy, it is considered a short-term or “brief” approach to therapy. As your bond deepens with the horse, self-awareness grows and healing begins, which starts as early as the first session.

To learn more about what you can expect with our EAGALA accredited Equine Assisted Therapy program, watch this short video below, or reach out to us for more information at info@CTSAtherapy.com.

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