She had agreed to meet her therapist at the barn instead of the office. It was hard to rationalize seeking help when she knew others had it much worse than she did. But she was so tired of having to deal with this depression that rolled in every few years—depression that left her feeling desperate as if her soul was a bottomless pit of darkness.
When her therapist suggested equine assisted psychotherapy (EAP), she had liked the sound of it. But as she pulled into the barn parking lot, all those voices in her head were screaming, “What were you thinking?” She had once ridden a pony at a carnival, but that was the extent of her knowledge of horses. “How can a horse help? This is such a waste of time.” But, somewhere deep inside, where tiny sparks of hope and trust lived, she made herself open the car door and walk into the barn.
This is a story I hear often. The struggle may be different—replace depression with anxiety, self-worth, PTSD, relationship issues, or trauma, but the question is the same. How can a horse help? Time after time, those who ask this question receive answers that are honest, healing, and change the revolving stories of pain.
How do horses help? They help by bringing an awareness of in-moment thoughts and responses. Telling our story in the presence of a 1000-pound horse who is authentically giving feedback to our body language and emotional state can help reveal what we are so skilled at hiding from ourselves and from the world. That same presence makes us feel acceptance and of ‘being enough’ when he trusts us to come close and bury our faces in his strong, soft neck.
Research and new understanding has exploded around the mind/body connection. Our Creator connected our mental processes to our bodies, intending our stories to be much more than head thoughts, feelings, and memories. The connection allows those stories of our lives, those physical, emotional, and spiritual experiences to show up everywhere in our non-verbal communication, from our habits to our life choices.
EAP is based on creating awareness through experiencing and talking to address therapy goals. It is non-mounted (all activities are on the ground) and it is not about horsemanship. EAP is about relationship, in-the-moment feedback, and the practice of new ways of thinking and doing. It is a partnership with the horse, yourself, a therapist, and an equine professional in a process of discovery, safety, and support. The team helps you navigate issues that come from broken and painful stories that have determined your responses to the world. With the horse as an accepting listener of your telling in a non-judgmental and safe setting, the story can change. Often, there is a release of secret shame, of an emotional, physical, or spiritual experience embedded in the story. This telling creates a space to begin the process of problem-solving where you feel worthless, alone, stuck, or lost. Stories that define and limit your present situations can be understood, and new perspectives can be practiced, thus creating the possibility of hope, and awareness of who you are, and, most importantly, who God is.
Horses are relational, prey animals who are finely attuned to their environment, hardwired to be curious and to respond to your emotional landscape. It is difficult to explain how it feels to partner with such a powerful, sentient being to work on trust, relationships, perspective, and faith. As a certified EAP therapist, I just see it happen time after time. Sometimes it’s just too much for words. Sometimes you just have to experience it. Sometimes you just have to stand in awe.
To learn more about Charlotte Easley and her Equine Therapy program, visit her website!
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