Equine Assisted Psychotherapy
What is Equine Assisted Psychotherapy?
In Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy the therapeutic relationship between you, your social worker and the horse is used to create a safe environment where we can reflect, learn new skills, and heal from past hurts. The social worker brings knowledge and expertise regarding human behaviour, horse behaviour and counselling/psychotherapy. The horse gently reflects back to us areas where we may not be congruent in a gentle and nonjudgmental manner, teaches us how to live in the present moment, and provides us with the opportunity to practice the skills needed to build healthy relationships with others. And you bring your own experiences, knowledge and expertise of where you’ve been and where you aspire to be one day. Together, through openness, honesty, and gentle curiosity, we learn can learn to grow, heal, and live life more authentically.
Horses are experts at living in the present moment and can teach us how to be more mindful and how to let go of the things when they no longer serve us – two skills that can be helpful in reducing stress and improving life satisfaction. Horses are prey animals and because of this they have become especially attuned to recognize even the smallest changes in their environment. They can detect possible danger from long distances and this helps them to survive.
Horses notice movement, sounds, and smells, but they can also pick up on emotions and intent. They feel safe when people or other animals around them are calm and grounded, and they feel threatened when people are not being congruent. For example, if someone asks you how your day is and you’re having a bad day but you say that you’re great, the horse can pick up on this incongruity and it doesn’t understand why you’re being inauthentic, so it becomes weary of this behaviour. This is important because horses reflect back to us our emotions and intentions in a way that can help us work through them and begin to act more genuinely. In working with horses, we too learn to become more attuned to ourselves and our environments and this can aid us in growth and healing.
When participating in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy you will have the opportunity to learn how to:
- Tune in to your needs and emotions
- Learn to read body language
- Genuinely connect with Others
- Develop healthy boundaries
- Find your personal power
- Balance your needs with those of others
- Assert yourself respectfully
- Calm down and regulate your emotions
- Process your emotions
- Develop healthy relationships
- Overcome obstacles in your life
- Heal from grief and trauma
- Become self-reflective and self-aware
- Develop leadership skills
- Live authentically
- Live in the present moment
Scout: The Horse Who Changed It all
In 2020, through the COVID-19 pandemic, Nicole took some time for self-reflection. As she connected more deeply with herself and began trusting more fully in her intuition, she found herself drawn back into the world of horses. She went on a few trail rides, and participated in a Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning (FEEL)® personal development day. She thought that was pretty cool, so she looked for a registered social worker who practices FEEL® so that she could continue to spend time with horses and further her own growth and healing, with the bonus that it would be covered by her benefits. That’s when she met Scout, a very special horse who taught her first hand just how transformational and healing working with horses can be.
Nicole remembered the moment that she met Scout; this old, playful thoroughbred with no teeth. She immediately thought to herself that he reminded her of her grandfather. She worked with some other horses as well, but there was something special about Scout. She was bit worried about getting close to Scout, because he’s an older horse and she was worried about getting too attached. She’d recently experienced loss in her life and she couldn’t bear the thought of losing someone else. The therapist validated Nicole’s feelings, and her relationship with Scout continued to grow.
One day Nicole and Scout were in the arena doing an activity and Scout was nipping at Nicole. Nicole wanted him to stop biting at her, but she was worried that if she drew a boundary with Scout that he might get upset with her and not want to spend time with her anymore. She begrudgingly drew a line in the sand. She’d never done this with Scout before, so he was a bit taken aback for a second. She turned and walked away from him.
To her surprise he walked up beside her. She walked around the arena and he chose to walk with her. When she sped up, he sped up. When she stopped, he stopped. When she turned, he turned. He chose, completely at his own free will, to both respect her boundary and continue to spend time with her. He showed her that he valued their relationship and the time that they spend together. From that day forward, whenever they spent time in the arena together, he was always by her side. They developed a friendship and their own little language. He was very good at telling Nicole when she was overthinking things and would nudge her with his head to encourage her to return to the present moment and enjoy their time together. It became a safe relationship where Nicole could be herself without any judgement, work through the things she needed to work through, and she knew that he loved her for who she is, unconditionally.
Scout not only taught Nicole an important lesson that day, but he gave her the opportunity to experience it. There will be people in our lives who don’t always treat us well. People who make hurtful comments, take jabs at us, and hurt us mentally, emotional, and sometimes physically. Sometimes it’s intentional and other times it’s unintentional. Sometimes they’ll downplay how hurtful their actions can be by saying they were joking or by gas lighting us. Sometimes the people who hurt us are the people who are supposed to love us or people that are really important to us. We may feel obligated to maintain certain relationships in our lives, we may depend on certain people, and/or we may feel as though no one will love and accept us unless we put up with their hurtful behaviours.
When we draw healthy boundaries with others we run the risk that they could walk away. The people in our lives who don’t respect us or our wellbeing will walk away from the relationship rather than change their behaviours and this can be sad. Sometimes we lose people who we really care about and it can be hurtful when we realize that they don’t care for us as much as we do for them. However, when we draw healthy boundaries with others, we also show people how we want to be treated. The people who value you and want you to be well will choose to respect your boundaries and this will strengthen your relationship because you’ll know that they value you for who you are. Relationships are about mutual respect: You take care of each other, you look out for each other, and you choose willingly to be in each other’s lives.
Horses have a beautiful way of teaching us how to connect with others in a genuine and authentic way. They’re nonjudgmental, patient, and forgiving. Everything Scout taught Nicole she rationally already knew, but experiencing this lesson first-hand allowed her to extend the lesson beyond her rational thoughts and it became part of her felt experience. She didn’t just know how someone who values and respects you should treat you, she felt what it feels like when someone values and respects her.
Nicole recognized that day how much horses can teach us as we learn to grow, heal, and find hope in our lives again, and she knew that she wanted to become trained in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. She wanted to give others what Scout gave her – the opportunity to experience the profound healing that can occur when we work with horses. Scout died on February 10, 2022. His passing broke Nicole’s heart and she misses him every day, but she’s also so grateful for the time they spent together and all that he’s taught her.
Rest in peace my friend.
Meet Our Equine Partners
A quirky gentle giant, Imogene (pronounced “Imo – gin”) loves the extra attention she gets during sessions. She’s a pro at teaching about grounding and self-care.
Coco has a bit of a spicy character, but she loves to please. She’s great at facilitating playfulness and togetherness.
Gentle and kind, Fawn brings her advanced maternal nurturing skills, patience, and unconditional acceptance to each session. She makes sure whoever she is working with leaves with a full heart.
Gem displays confidence in everything that she does. She teaches how to find your personal power and set healthy boundaries with others.
Paco is our resident miniature horse, but don’t let his small size fool you. He’s great at gently reflecting back exactly where you’re at and pointing out the little things you may not have noticed.
Sascha is friendly and sweet. She provides opportunities for practicing emotion regulation skills and learning to set healthy boundaries with others.