Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) is a type of therapy in which horses play an active role in the therapeutic process. Equine-assisted learning (EAL) aids participants in self-discovery and the development of life and social skills through interactions with horses. Both modalities rely on the horse’s unique abilities to interact with humans on a level unavailable in most other therapeutic or learning environments.
Many people wonder, "Why horses?" Why do we incorporate horses into the thereputic process to help humans heal from a variety of psychological issues and how/why are they so effective? Medicine Horse Therapist Alison McCabe helps answer these questions in the pasture with her assistants Nitro, Prince and Rowan from our therapy herd.
Horses are intuitive, honest and responsive. As herd animals, they are highly social and empathic, relying on their relationships with one another for comfort, safety and survival. As prey animals, they are extremely sensitive to their physical and energetic environment. Each horse has an individual personality, strengths and challenges, opinions and preferences. As a result, horses have much to teach us about ourselves:
Emotional resilience and agility
Relationships with self and others within a family or other group system
Social intelligence and leadership
Working with horses in a safe, non-judgmental setting allows for healing, learning and positive change. Often, progress can happen more quickly and impactfully than in other contexts.
Partnering with horses as co-facilitators allows Medicine Horse to offer incredible programs serving the needs of our community in the areas of mental health, personal well-being and education.
Recent studies conducted by the HeartMath Institute provide a clue to explain
the two-way "healing" that occurs when we're close to horses
According to researchers, the heart has an electromagnetic field larger than the brain: a magnetometer can measure the energy field of the heart that radiates from 2.4 meters to 3 meters around the human body. While this is certainly significant, perhaps more impressive than the electromagnetic field projected by the heart of a horse is five times larger than that of a human being (imagine an electromagnetic sphere around the horse) and it can influence straight into our own heart rate.
Horses are also likely to have what science has identified as a "coherent" heart rate (heart rate pattern) that explains why we can "feel better" when we're close to them. Studies have found a coherent heart pattern or HRV to be a solid measure of well-being and consistent with emotional states of calm and joy-that is, we exhibit such patterns when we feel positive emotions.
A coherent heart pattern is indicative of a system that can recover and adapt to stressful situations very efficiently. Many times, we just need to be in the presence of horses to feel a sense of well-being and peace. In fact, research shows that people experience many physiological benefits by interacting with horses, including lower blood pressure and heart rate, higher beta-endorphins (neurotransmitters acting as pain suppressors), decreased stress levels, decreased feelings of anger, hostility, tension and anxiety, better social working; and greater feelings of empowerment, confidence, patience and self-efficacy.