Working with horses can treat a variety of emotional ailments.
By Georgia Smith-Lyle, MA, LPC-S
Horses were domesticated about 5,000 years ago. That’s a long time. They have been used in all areas of life from travel, ranch and farm work to leisure and sporting events.
Much has been learned about these majestic animals. They are a “herd” animal, as opposed to a “pack” animal like dogs or coyotes. Because they are a herd animal, they have a basic instinct to protect the other horses in the group and they travel in their group. When they are threatened by a predator or detect harm, they will surround and defend the horse(s) that are in danger. They also will draw the attention away from the herd to themselves in order to protect the others.
From these basic caring instincts of staying together to defend at all cost, we know horses feel deeply and have a strong sense of their surroundings. They are more aware of their surroundings than humans and can see and hear in all directions. Their ears can move front, side, and to the back of them for acute hearing. Their eyes are positioned on the side of their faces so they can see all around them. Their noses are large and nostrils large so they can detect smells from far away.
The physic of a horse and the way they interact in their surroundings tells us they are extremely sensitive to everything and anyone around them. This is why they have gained popularity in being used for healing of trauma and other emotional issues in the world of psychotherapy–– Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP). Horses feel the emotions of people and some horses absorb the same emotion. They have an intuitive sense about them that is stronger than most humans. They remember expressions on the face of people. They are highly sensitive to the touch of a human. Many horses will observe the emotion of a person who interacts with them. Emotions such as rejection, betrayal, fear, anxiety, depression, grief, joy, gladness, and peace are examples of what they feel.
Equine therapy is also useful for trauma (with our war veterans or those who have suffered abuse and grief) and working through extreme fear. Leadership and team building for businesses or groups is also another way a horse is used today. This kind of use of horses is called Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) and many times a licensed therapist is present along with the EAL coach to help the process when emotions surface that need professional attention.
I have used my horses for equine psychotherapy in conjunction with traditional therapy for the last two years at my ranch in Petty, Texas. I have experienced first hand the emotional healing and breakthrough that comes through these majestic, sensitive animals. I have worked with a family of a single parent, and person with high anxiety, and another person who experienced extreme grief for years from the loss of a loved one. These are only a few examples. All situations came away with success and healing from the experience they had with my horses.
There are many places in surrounding areas that provide equine psychotherapy. My husband and I work together providing Equine Assisted Learning for groups and businesses as well. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is also extremely useful with special needs children and has proven successful.
I hope you have found this article insightful and helpful. Even though horses are majestic and usually much larger than us, we don’t need to be afraid of them. We do need to have a respect for their large bodies and be aware of healthy boundaries when working with them and wear the proper shoes. Working with horses will also give you an increased awareness for the environment around you. Spending time with a horse or a group of horses will help you overcome your fears and encourage confidence. This happens when you realize the horse is there to help you in whatever emotion you may be feeling. Spending time with this incredible animal will teach you more than what this article can convey in just a few words!
Georgia Smith-Lyle, MA, LPC-S is in private practice as a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Texas providing counseling for children, adolescents, adults, marriage and family. She has authored two books and is a public speaker. Georgia may be reached at 469-855-0256 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org. www.counselingbygeorgia.com