During the last decade the field of working therapeutically with people alongside horses, has started to gain recognition. We have introduced this therapeutic approach at the Outdoor Learning Centre for children, and young people in our care. The therapeutic work we practice with our horses provides a rich learning environment for children and young people who have experienced adversity in early childhood and broken attachment relationships. Being with and working with the horses helps individuals to build confidence in themselves, learn about horse behaviour and communication, and apply this learning to their own life experiences and relationships.
Activities with the horses may be simple in setup – such as a task for two people to move a horse over an obstacle with a rule of ‘NO TOUCH’. The photograph illustrates how a simple task requires a great deal confidence, communication, awareness of body-language, collaboration and team work! The working relationship with the horse, is an integral part of the process and provides opportunities for all participants to become very conscious of their own methods of communication and relationships
- Horses are social animals, experts in body language and are successful in surviving if they function well within a herd
- Horses are large, powerful animals and working with such sensitive and responsive animals, creates a powerful learning environment – learning is through ‘gut instincts’ – this is learning through the limbic system of the brain without the restrictions of the analytical, ‘thinking’ brain.
- For these reasons, the horses act as a powerful catalyst for change, creating opportunities for insight and reflection that can then be applied to the social environment.
In a safe space, participants are able to experiment with new behaviours, and experience the impacts of small behaviour changes. This builds confidence in making choices about which behaviour feels better, or helps with developing more positive relationships.
Equine assisted therapy sessions are facilitated by an experienced team who have been working with horses and young people using this approach, for many years. All equine sessions are structured and carefully tailored to the needs of the individual or group. For young people in our residential care placements, this therapeutic approach may be integrated into their overall treatment plan, so that the equine sessions are entirely complementary with their personal aspirations and goals.