Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is based on the understanding that animals have a great capacity to build bonds with humans. They are highly attuned with their environment and very sensitive to body language, which makes them good teachers. 

Horses are honest and their feedback is immediate. When talking about horses, people often refer to them as a mirror. They perceive what is going on with the person in front of them – their emotions, intent, and body language – and react negatively if a student is acting in a threatening way. Even if the youth tries to disguise their feelings, a horse knows if they are being inauthentic and will respond directly.  

When a horse reacts, the visual impact is quite clear. The teen can see and experience the reaction. This can be easier for them to accept and internalize than spoken feedback from a therapist, teacher, or peer.  

Adolescents are at a life stage where many prefer doing instead of talking. Trusting and verbalizing about themselves to another person, including their therapist, can be intimidating. This is especially true if they have experienced trauma or have been let down by an adult they trusted in the past. Talking directly about painful memories can be distressing.  

The immediate and honest reaction of the horse can help a teen understand a consequence of their own behavior, something that is often hard to perceive in human relationships. The interaction can then provide a metaphor to understanding and interpreting the behaviors of people in the student’s life.

Equine assisted psychotherapy also allows the youth to experiment with different behaviors to see how what they do impacts their interaction with the horse, how changes in themselves change the horse’s response. Trying different interactions can provide insight into their relationships with others, and help them develop new skills for use in other aspects of their life.  

Experiences are powerful. While we may only retain a fraction of what we hear, but when we also do and see something, the memory it creates is more vivid. Lessons learned in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy can then later be applied to other aspects of a youth’s life.  

Horse and student building trust demonstrating equine assisted psychotherapy

Benefits of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy: 

  • Provides insight as to how their own behaviors can affect others around them
  • Provides honest and direct feedback 
  • Addresses every learning style 
  • Offers real-time opportunities to practice and master skills 
  • Develops non-coercive connections with the horses 
  • Develops self-advocacy, self-reliance, and self-awareness 
  • Teaches problem solving skills and responsibility 
  • Teaches Emotion Regulation/Distress tolerance 
  • Cultivates healthy relationships, develops empathy and an understanding of their own emotions 
  • Develops Risk Assessment skills 
  • Offers an opportunity to practice and incorporate DBT and other coping skills 
  • Helps students Master Mindfulness 
  • Reduce the negative impacts of early childhood trauma