What is equine therapy? Equine therapy originally started as a program that involved the use of horses in riding therapeutically for individuals with physical disabilities. The horseback riding experience provided the rider with a gentle rhythm similar to the human gait; this often helped improve muscle strength, flexibility and balance. It has also been found that individuals with mental or emotional disabilities can benefit from interactions with horses. The individual forms a relationship with the horse that can help build their confidence, patience, and self-esteem
One of the distinct elements to Cirque Lodge is our involvement of horses within an addiction treatment program. Equine assisted psychotherapy falls under the experiential therapy piece provided at Cirque Lodge, which teaches a battery of coping strategies for long-term recovery. We believe we have the preeminent equine experience dedicated to treating addiction and through working with horses our residents can learn more about themselves in the process.
Some individuals are just better at learning through hands on experience. We like to provide an alcohol and drug rehab program where the residents are involved in these types of experiences. The equine program provides just that in a whole new way. It involves working with horses and the process that it takes to gain the trust of that horse. Regardless of where we come from or our experiences with horses, this exercise has shown time and time again to be an honest and positive strategy. The Studio facility provides both indoor and outdoor venues for our equine program, which means we don't have to lose a day of equine therapy to weather.
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP), is a fairly new field, and still in the experimental stages. Individuals learn about themselves by interacting in a series of specially designed activities with horses. EAP is not about riding horses. It's about therapeutic activities that take place on the ground under the guidance of a licensed psychologist and an equine specialist. The therapy on horses usually is without the use of bridles or saddles. These activities promote beneficial therapeutic healing and growth, by teaching the individual how to deal, and learn about their own emotions. It helps people increase awareness as to how their emotions affect others and their daily lives.
Why are horses used instead of other animals? Horses are very social animals. They have distinct personalities and temperaments. They mirror exactly what human body language is telling them by reacting immediately to signals you may not realize you are sending. Horses are large and powerful, and their size can be intimidating to many people. Participating in an activity with a horse, in spite of their size and presence, can build confidence.
One method used in equine assisted psychotherapy; a halter is handed to a participant and the individual is then instructed go into an arena and catch a horse. Depending on the approach, the horse may back away, run, or allow the individual to place the halter over its head. It can be an easy task, or a very daunting task, it is all in how the horse interprets the participant's body language. They may give up and walk away, because it appears to be impossible, or they try a variety of methods until they are able to approach the horse and place the halter over its head. It makes the participant stand back and access the situation. Many times it requires more than one session to accomplish this activity. Each time the individual feels like giving up, the question can be asked; how could this simple activity be compared to how people approach each other, and what are the signals your body language sends?
Another method, the participant is asked to go out into an arena without a halter, and asked to get the horse to move through a series of obstacles. This activity usually takes several sessions. If the participant is disrespectful to the horse, such as inappropriate touching or loud noises, this makes the horse fearful. When the participant makes a conscious effort, and considers what affect they are having on the horse, rather than just making demands, the horse begins to cooperate. The horse is beginning to trust and respect you. Trust and respect are earned with horses, much the same way as gaining trust and respect from people.
There is much subjective evidence on the positive therapeutic benefits of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, especially in the area of transferable social and learning skills. Depending on how the participant initially approached the horse, and by eventually learning to provide clear direction to the animal, in a calm manner, this therapy allows the participant immediate feedback, which can be discussed between the participant and a trained professional. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy provides the individual with immediate opportunities to be aware of inappropriate behaviors, feelings and attitudes, and opens the doors to discuss a way to correct them. It is clear that Equine Assisted Psychotherapy does provide many benefits by allowing people to discover new ways of dealing with and overcoming problems. It is highly recommended to seek assistance from an accredited facility for the treatment of alcohol or substance abuse addictions. An inpatient experience at a treatment center has many advantages, allowing the individual to address their personal issues without the distractions of daily life.
Communication and Feedback
In working with the horses, residents get a new perspective on communication and honesty. Unlike other aspects of the addiction treatment program and treating chemical dependency, the feedback is supplied not by a counselor or fellow resident, but through the actions of the horse. It isn't like interacting with another person, our spouse or parent. Horses are highly acute of their surroundings and our intentions. We cannot gain the trust of the animal without being honest in our intentions, which doesn't always require words.
Another valuable lesson learned in this process is through asking for help. When we are in the throes of our addiction, this can be a difficult thing. Before trust is established with the horse this can be necessary. Residents can experience some frustration as the horse is uncooperative. It is in these moments when we learn not to look at the horse as the problem, but look inwardly to ourselves at our limitations.
Connections through Equine Therapy
The reward of this exercise is when resident and horse makes that connection. Trust is established. An honest connection is a powerful thing, because it was something earned. From this point the horse is willing to do what the alcoholic/addict commands it to. In some cases they even follow around the resident without a leader rope or restraint. We can use this feedback in our recovery! The experience can help us to communicate more appropriately not just to those in our rehabilitation center, but with our partners, family and co-workers.
It is experiences in things like equine therapy that we try to instill in the residents of our addiction treatment programs. We feel that such activities not only help to make recovery more achievable, but also fun and engaging at the same time. It goes into creating that foundation needed for moving forward not only with their sobriety, but with life. If you feel that Cirque Lodge is the place for you or someone you care about, we encourage you to call or email us at any time, 1-800-582-0709 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
See the Story about Sampson, our horse in recovery and learn more about a number of program activities intended to provide an attractive, fun and enriching recovery experience.