What is Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning (E.A.T./E.A.L.)?
E.A.T./E.A.L. is an innovative and creative modality for addressing a wide range of therapeutic and emotional needs. It is a short-term, collaborative effort between a mental health professional and a horse professional, which assists clients in their personal journey of growth and development. This modality engages with concepts from Gestalt and Experiential therapies whereby the importance of body language and metaphors become the basic tool to develop client empowerment.
By interacting with horses, participants will engage in ground-based activities (no horse riding is involved), which will create an opportunity for clients to compare their experiences with the horses and the activities to their real life experiences. Horses have a variety of characteristics similar to humans and they respond to non-verbal behaviour of the human interacting with them. Individuals are often unaware of their behaviour until they can understand it in the way the horse reflects it back to them. This metaphorical process is self-reflective and powerful, encouraging clients to develop insight and supporting the identification and expression of thoughts, behaviours and emotions.
It is the stories which emerge from these metaphors that enable our programmes to have a lasting impact and enable the client to take what they learn in the arena back to their lives. The holistic process engages clients on a physical, mental and emotional level all at the same time. As humans we remember 20% of what we hear, 50% of what we see, and 80% of what we do; thus our actions are the reasons experiential learning is so effective.
“Being in and with nature helps attune the participant to the fact that they are not separate beings but are related to, and influenced by, their surroundings. This can reduce feelings of alienation, unacceptability and bring them back to feeling connected to others, relieved, loved and accepted by others”
– Randy Mandrell
Horses are herd and prey animals and as such are highly attuned to changes in non-verbal communication in order to maintain the safety of the herd. They are therefore able to accurately assess the state of being and communicate it non-verbally. They use emotions as information, and by releasing emotions that don’t serve them, are able to live in the moment. Horses are large animals that are unique in character and personalities as us humans. They thus respond and react differently to each client’s behaviours, emotions and attitudes.
As the horse and client embark on their various activities (i.e. catch and halter a horse, move it around, get it to walk through and over obstacles), the horses start to non-judgmentally mirror the client’s state of being. The clients are encouraged to take notice of these horse behaviours. Once the reflective nature of this connection is made, the client is able to access a visual representation of his/her reality and is then able to explore his/her perception of the world. Clients are thus empowered to choose how to manage these perceptions. Through working with horses, clients are able to develop and promote self-esteem, confidence, group cohesion, empathy, leadership, appropriate boundaries, trust and assertiveness.