Understanding Ourselves Through the Horse

My family and I were watching the Netflix movie “Walk, Ride, Rodeo”, based on the true events of a Nationally ranked barrel racer Amberly Snyder. At one point after Amberly’s accident that left her paralyzed, and in a wheelchair, she maneuvers her way to the pasture to greet her horses. Power, a black beauty and Amberly’s barrel racing equine partner, is hesitant to greet her and gives her a look over his shoulder refusing to come close to her. My 5-year-old son comments, “Power is afraid he hurt her, and he doesn’t know what to do because she looks different”. This reflection reminded me of my own thoughts and feelings at this point in the movie and I was in awe of the insightfulness of my young, horse-loving son. I began to remember all the times my horses have responded to me in different ways at times when I was “off” or not feeling well, maybe I was having a bad day and they nuzzled me or choose to stay away due to the frustration I felt in my stomach. I have always been inspired by the intuition horses have and the way they communicate my own emotions. It’s like they mirror me from the inside out.

In counseling we often work with clients to help them identify the emotions they are feeling and have avoided, mostly inappropriately, in order to maintain some sense of normalcy or balance in their lives. With this constant fight to find balance through denial of emotions we as humans become even more off balance and often find ourselves in a dead end. This is where counseling comes in. Typical therapy is, at times, sterile with the client and counselor sitting in the office “talking about our feelings.” We  develop coping skills and strategies for planning how to handle the next situation without falling into the same trap. This sterile feeling can be a deterrent for some people to attend counseling and can impair others in their progress or lead the client (and/or counselor) to feel stuck. Though this traditional form of therapy has its place and is beneficial, there are other ways to find insight and healing. Equine Assisted/Facilitated Psychotherapy (EAP or EFP), along with Equine Assisted Learning (EAL), can complement the traditional psychotherapy process.

Equine Assisted/Facilitated Psychotherapy (EAP or EFP) and Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) are designed to be an experiential modality to help enhance the therapeutic process. The horse, or equine, is seen as a partner in the counseling session along with a Masters Level Licensed Clinician/Counselor and an Equine Specialist (ES) that has had specialized training in how to assist the client and horse in these experiential sessions.

So… why horses? Horses are sentient beings. A sentient being is a creature that can suffer and feel pain; mostly animals and humans. Sentient being can also mean something with the faculty of sensation and the power to perceive, reason and think. We have found through studies and experiences that horses are able to mirror and match our own emotions and internal processing.  With their mirroring ability horses have the power to show us what we may or may not know about ourselves, help us to find balance in our lives, and to improve our capacity for change. Resiliency is a skill that horses are incredible at helping us, as humans, gain and understand.  All too often resilience is the skill that we lose the easiest through our traumas and life experiences.

There is a magic to horses. Many parents find that their young girls are drawn to horses and ask for a pony every Christmas. Young children play cowboys and Indians and have imaginary pet horses or stuffed animals they pretend to have great adventures with. This is the magic that these beautiful, yet daunting, creatures bring to our lives. It is difficult for me to deny this passion for their presence as I was that young girl begging her parents for the pony under the tree. I gained my horse owner title in my adulthood and have never looked back. They are a part of me now and I will always be grateful for them in my life. This magic is a gift that we use in EAP and EAL to help our clients to improve their own capacity for change and to experience the magic.

Experiencing EAP and/or EAL can take many forms. There are exercises we do on the ground with no riding. This can include but is not limited to petting, brushing, talking to and leading the horse. Through the course of the treatment there may be times a riding exercise is approved. This is only done with the presence of another team member with specialized education in Therapeutic Riding Certification and is present for the safety of all involved.

Katie Barnes and I recently finished our training with Path International for the Equine Specialist in Mental Health Learning (ESMHL) in Bend, Oregon and are proud to be a part of this wonderful work. We at Healthy Care Solutions look forward to bringing this amazing resource to the Idaho Falls and surrounding areas soon. Please look for our upcoming EAL workshops and future EAP opportunities. There is a lot to do in preparation, yet we are committed to this work and are excited to have you participate.

Please contact me or Katie for more information and to be placed on our wait list and/or interest list for future emails, texts and workshops.

Ride on and enjoy the journey!

Joanna Trussel, LCSW, Clinical Director, jtrussel@healthycaresolutionsllc.com, 208-529-1660

Katie Barnes, Counseling Intern, kbarnes@healthycaresolutionsllc.com, 2018-529-1660