Equine Therapy and Equine Assisted Life Coaching have been growing in popularity as common forms of experiential mental health services. Sure, it may seem appealing to spend some time around horses, but why are they used for therapeutic services? Lets dive in. (For simplicity, I’m going to abbreviate Equine Therapy and Equine Assisted Life Coaching to just “Equine” throughout the post.)
A little introduction to my work: I started working with Talley at Connemara Ranch in Malibu in 2011 to assist with trail rides. The same year, Talley hosted a workshop on the Horse Boy method of equine therapy for working with children on the Autism Spectrum. It was such a cool experience, and Talley clearly had a passion for using horses for healing. Talley has a unique blend of expertise having trained with EAGALA for an equine therapy certificate, having received a Master of Spiritual Psychology, and having trained under her own horse mentor who studied the horse psyche and social norms within herds of horses. Talley wasn’t doing any regular equine services at the time I met her, but in 2012, I started working in addiction treatment, and ended up connecting my treatment center to work with Talley. From there, Talley’s equine practice grew into serving several Los Angeles based mental health and addiction treatment centers. I started off assisting with her equine groups, and grew into a co-facilitator over the years. Almost a decade of training under Talley and hundreds of equine sessions later, it makes me so happy that I can tie in equine into my own practice today, and incorporate my experience as a clinical social worker into Talley’s dynamic method.
So what keeps me coming back to equine a decade later? Why is it so awesome? Look I’ll be honest with you, there’s a magic to it that I don’t want to spoil here and maybe can’t even explain. But I’m going to do my best to give you the best introduction I can while letting you still have some surprises in store for you when you come for a session.
Equine has so many different kinds of activities, and each provider will have their own style. Some providers will quite literally just release you into a farm setting to play with the animals without much intervention. And hey, that’s therapeutic within itself because connecting with animals has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression through grounding with nature. Maybe this is what most people picture when they hear about equine, and that’s fine. There are other pretty simplistic activities to do in equine that help with grounding, like feeding or grooming the horses.
All of that is great, and is typically what I seek when I just go to spend time with the horses on my own (along with taking approximately one million pictures or videos of the horses every time I go). But my favorite part of equine is the “challenge” activities (left vague on purpose to not spoil the journey). In these activities, the participant is paired up with a horse partner to accomplish a task. In the process, the participant gets to work on communication skills, setting boundaries, relationship challenges, assertiveness, the list goes on. The challenge activity with the horses serves as a metaphor for life challenges, and helps to bring clarity to how to resolve each issue.
So in short, the horses see things about a person that other people might not notice. That’s because we could be caught up in our own biases or distractions, but the horses cut straight the to point. So if you show up with loving, receptive, calm energy, a healthy horse partner will lean into your sweet energy once you’ve earned their trust. But show up angry, defensive or aggressive, and you’ll send the horses into a tail spin where they’ll be very hard to connect with. Of course there are so many other states of emotion to show up in, and the horses will respond accordingly. These emotional states don’t even have to be obvious to other people. You may appear calm on the outside but feeling heightened distress on the inside, and the horses will know that even if the person next to you doesn’t. Working with a team of horses and a therapist or coach will help you to identify more of your inner state, and from there identify a plan on how to manage or heal from that inner state.
I hope with this description it strikes a balance of piquing your interest and leaving something to the imagination. You’ll have to come see what the horses can teach you to find out the rest! Feel free to call or email me to schedule a free consultation or book and appointment! No prior experience with horses needed, just bring your open mind, closed toed shoes, and a desire for connection and healing!
PS: Equine is not a horseback riding activity. For horseback rides on with these beauties, reach out to Connemara Ranch directly!