Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is a form of counseling in which the therapist and client work in partnership with horses to achieve the client’s goals. Recent research has finally come in to support what those of us in this field have long known: Horses can help people achieve their therapeutic goals more quickly than talk-therapy alone, and do so in a setting that, for many people, holds more appeal than being in an office.
Unlike some models, we have chosen to incorporate mounted work in only some circumstances. However, we use riding to address very specific therapeutic issues. We do not use riding for recreation, to get ‘buy-in’ from the client, or with a primary goal of teaching horsemanship. The intervention of horseback riding is utilized to provide the rhythmic, patterned, repetitive movement needed to reorganize and heal the brain on a cellular level, to help clients learn to self regulate, and to allow them to further recognize relationship patterns and deepen intimacy. We use riding only when it will be more effective and efficient than anything that can be done on the ground. The same principles that drive our model of EAP when done on the ground are applicable and even intensified when on the back of a horse.
Studies show that functionality of the brain in people who have experienced trauma such as a abuse, neglect, or natural disasters is often compromised due to disorganization of connections in the brain. These people often struggle with emotion and impulse control, which results in the inability to appropriately handle even minimal stress. Rhythmic riding utilizes the rhythmic, patterned, repetitive movement inherent in riding a horse to increase and reorganize the connections in the brain, thereby increasing the brain’s ability for emotion and impulse control. The horse is able to provide the rhythm required to effectively heal the traumatized brain until the client is able to provide that rhythm for themselves.
Many clients are unable to do deeper, insight-oriented therapeutic work until they are able to bring their level of activation to a place that allows them to gain and retain insight, and benefit from higher-level learning. This level of regulation is most profoundly learned on the back of a horse.
(We would like to thank Tim and Bettina Jobe of Natural Lifemanship for their generosity in allowing us to use their vast knowledge and experience in this work. Please use this link to find out more about Natural Lifemanship.)
Horses are extremely sensitive to the internal states of the humans with which they work and change their behavior depending on the emotions of the client. If a client is anxious, the horse will behave differently than it would if the client were calm. If a client is impatient or inattentive, the horse shows it. So on one level, the client is working with a magnificent animal, but at the same time they’re really working with a 1,200 pound biofeedback machine.
The horse provides a wealth of information about what’s really going on with the client, which is extremely useful in the client and therapist’s work together. Horses have personalities, attitudes, and moods as unique as those of each individual involved. Because of this, EAP produces endless experiences and situations for discussion, analysis and increased insight into the client’s personal mode of operation in the world. Through the acts of selecting a horse, gaining its trust, haltering, and grooming the horse, clients gain self confidence, learn to listen and remain attentive, learn dedication and a work ethic, and develop communication skills that carry over into their daily lives.
The process of developing a relationship with a horse facilitates a process whereby clients are able to address and move through past or present damaging life circumstances. They learn how those circumstances affect their current interactions, and make the personal changes necessary for healthy, fulfilling relationships in the present and future. It is human nature to become comfortable with the familiar. Therefore, when building a relationship with a horse, clients re-create the familiar patterns of interaction they have learned throughout their lives. Most clients inadvertently choose a horse that will treat them the way they are used to being treated or that they believe they can treat in the same manner they treat other people. If they don’t or can’t choose this type of horse the client will eventually create this type of horse. The horse will help them understand how their behavior affects the relationship.
The Equine Partnership Program is a 501c3 corporation. We are constantly raising money to help offset the cost of equine assisted psychotherapy for our clients as well as support the rescue horses that we have in the program. We work on a sliding scale and also offer scholarships to those who are in need of our programs and are unable to pay. We are currently Accepting Medicaid for Denver, Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert, El Paso, and surrounding counties. This includes ABC and BHI.
|Group 90 minutes||$40 per participant|
Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield members, please request a letter from your insurance provider stating your remaining deductible for the year, co-pay, and address or fax number for billing.
Here is a brief summary of some of the possible interventions that are utilized at the Equine Partnership Program:
- Rehabilitate an abused horse for eventual sale/adoption as a metaphor for risking loss, and appropriate life changes.
- Work with an animal that has been traumatized or that has been part of a traumatic event in an effort to help that animal heal and become socialized so that the client can metaphorically begin to process and talk about his/her own traumatic situation.
- Learn to respond to social interactions by experiencing a multitude of situations in which the client has to read and respond to the non-verbal cues that horses provide in response to the clients interaction to that animal.
- Work through increasingly difficult tasks with the animal so that the client begins to find healthier ways to manage stress, frustration, and anxiety. This can also be applied to help families discover their dysfunctional methods of coping with difficult situations and to find new ways of working together.
- Work with different horses in exercises that help the client learn the impact of his/her own behaviors may have on others and how these behaviors can be changed in a positive, non-threatening manner. Clients learn to develop alternative actions/behaviors that impact their horse in a positive fashion and apply these changes to all aspects of their lives.
We strive to provide healthy, healing experiences for our clients as well as the neglected and abused horses that we bring into our program as co-facilitators. These horses are our partners in reaching out to our clients and providing them with new strategies and tools to utilize in their lives.
We offer individual session, family sessions, and group work depending on the needs of the clients. We also run day-long seminars for churches and school districts that have a targeted population with whom they want us to work. This may include at-risk youth, gang-related youth, and expulsion programs.
- Individual EAP: We see children, teens, and adults individually to work on a range of issues including Reactive Attachment Disorder, Oppositional Defiance, Depression, Anxiety, Impulsivity, ADHD, PTSD, and behavioral problems.
- Family EAP: We also work with families who have children experiencing any of the above problems, and families who simply come to work on their communication skills.
- Teen Groups: During summer vacations we offer two teen groups– one for six teen boys and one for six teen girls (age range 11-16). These groups will run for eight, two-and-a-half hour sessions beginning with a meet and greet, getting to know kids and parents, therapists and horses, and culminating in a trail ride and camp fire graduation session.
Our clients are as young as three to as old as ninety-nine (actually, we haven’t worked with a ninety-nine year old yet!) Clients come to us with a variety of issues and mental health diagnoses ranging from behavioral issues and developmental delays to marital problems and unresolved trauma. We are able to offer a range of therapeutic modalities ranging from office-based play therapy for children, adolescents, and families to traditional talk therapy for adolescents and adults who might prefer the structure and relative safety of the office environment. Because we believe that equine assisted psychotherapy is a powerful tool that increases insight and promotes change faster than any other therapeutic modality we know of, we always offer EAP and encourage clients to take advantage of this opportunity. All therapy is tailored to the individual or to the group.
Research has shown that equine assisted psychotherapy and experiential learning has an impact on many different issues that people face in their lives. It is a powerful tool that may be an alternative to lengthy talk therapy. It is also an attractive and interesting vehicle to deliver clinical services to kids/clients that may be resistant to going to traditional therapy. Equine assisted therapy has been shown to positively impact depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, attachment, PTSD, and family issues. Just as importantly, equine assisted therapy and learning is useful to all who are interested in becoming happier, healthier, and more aware in their lives and their relationships.
Children and teens with emotional and behavioral problems can be difficult to work with and very difficult to live with. Many of them are very distrustful of adults and very resistant to traditional types of therapy. A horse can be the bridge that allows the client to become more open to learning about themselves and the self-destructive behaviors that may be part of their lives. In order to work with a horse, new skills have to be developed. The process of developing these skills can help kids who are especially oppositional, anxious, or have low self esteem. Our clients soon realize that they have to make changes in how they act in this world to be able to achieve a positive, healthy partnership with their horse. These changes carry over to the other human relationships that they have. Some of these scenarios include:
- A group of oppositional/defiant gang related youth decide that working together with respect for each other is the way they were going to succeed at the ranch.
- A sexually and physically abused young woman learn how to set healthy boundaries with her equine partner and apply this to all her relationships with the opposite sex.
- An ADHD kid can be able breathe, settle, and focus on a sequence of events/behaviors that allowed him to succeed with his horse.
- A family fragmented by divorce and resentment is able to find ways to communicate with each other that provides safety and positive reinforcement to all members of the family and to the horses that they work with. As well as a common ground that allowed them the time and space to heal and become a functioning healthy family.
- A child with very low self esteem is able to hold his head triumphantly at his success with his equine partner–something he never thought was possible.
We aim to provide an arena in which our clients (with the help of their equine partners) can learn love, trust, communication, teamwork, integrity, resilience, empathy, appropriate boundaries, teamwork, and new ways of approaching things that will positively affect all aspects of their lives. Individuals who learn to treat a horse with respect, loving discipline, kindness, and responsibility are better equipped to be better kids, better students, better parents, and better partners. Learning to share power in a mutually respectful relationship with a 1,200 pound animal is a tremendous boost to self-confidence any requires insight and thought that may have never been developed before.
Each therapy horse costs approximately $500/month (anywhere between $485 and $540–we’ve averaged it out to $6,000 a year), not including emergency vet visits. That cost is broken down as such:
$130 month for hay
$35 month for grain
$250 month for facility/pasture fees
$25-55 per month for the farrier shoeing (depending on if they are getting horse shoes or just a trim)
$20 per month for liability insurance
$25-50 a month vet average
The cost for hay, vet bills, and farrier visits may increase for newly-rescued horses and the issues we are trying to solve to get them healthy again. However, these are our current costs for the horses listed on the website.