Learning to Be Me:
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and The
Healing Spirit of the Horse
In the field of psychology Equine Assisted Psychotherapy offers
a unique opportunity to explore your emotional behaviors with
Throughout the ages humans have searched for many ways to
understand our selves. A variety of healing and therapeutic
modalities have assisted people with life's struggles, taught
us about the Self and helped create stories that became myth
and legend. As psychology and the study of the human mind
evolved, we began to use new techniques. Language became the
basis for mental and emotional growth; to lie on the therapist's
couch a standard practice. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP),
therapeutic work done in the presence of horses, a licensed
counselor or psychologist, and an equine specialist reminds
us that the natural world reflects humanity and teaches us
about who we are as individuals and how to live in a more
satisfied way. Horses willingly give in an EAP setting and
the healing spirits of these animals can change us in ways
we never imagined.
The Power of Biofeedback
One of the most common questions I have been asked when discussing
my experience with Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine
Assisted Learning (EAL) is why horses? Why these animals and
not dogs or cats? The answer is simple; horses are animals
of prey. Predators, such as dogs and cats can make wonderful
companions and are capable of rich and deep relationships.
A horse, however, must observe every movement, smell and sound
around them in case they have to use their best natural defense:
speed. In order to run and escape a predator they must always
be registering and paying attention to what is around them,
including humans. Horses check to see if our insides match
our outsides, they search for the genuine and the authentic
in us because it's how they survive. If we appear calm but
inside we experience emotional turmoil, horses know. If we
appear happy but inside we feel afraid, horses sense the fear.
The biofeedback horses are able to provide allows us to see
our hidden emotions. We must then claim these emotions as
our own and be held accountable for them.
One of my favorite writers Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional
Intelligence, talks about group dynamics and the concept
of cooperation. Whether personal or professional, working
with others is an important skill. Goleman asks the question
"How can you know when to lead and when to follow?" Horses
live together and they have much to teach us about leadership
and relationships, give and take. In an EAP or EAL session
you learn what your leadership and relationship style is.
You find out if this style is effective or if changes are
necessary. Of course these realizations come in an atmosphere
of non-judgment, which allows for greater integration so change
can occur. Goleman also often discusses insight and the process
of identifying patterns in your emotional life and recognizing
similar patterns in others. EAP and EAL create a format in
which the horses can reveal to us our emotional habits. You
begin to understand and see clearly the patterns that exist
and what patterns lead to happiness and satisfaction and what
leads to pain and suffering. The healing spirit of the horse
shows us we have a choice to live in one world or the other.
Invite the Challenge
Over the course of my life I have learned much from my horses.
As an EAP and EAL professional I learn everyday about my fears,
weaknesses, strengths and gifts. These things are shown to
me by the relationships I share with my horse companions.
Horses contain a mystery humans can't fully comprehend and
defining them as beasts of burden and animals just to be ridden
is to deny the greatest gift they can offer to us. EAP and
EAL, as we practice it, involve no riding. The simple act
of being in the presence of a horse is to accept the challenge
to know yourself better and more completely. I live a fuller
life because I accept this challenge every day and I allow
the horses to teach me. To learn more about EAP or EAL or
to read the stories of horses involved in this incredible
work please visit my web site at http://www.HorseSenseOtc.com.
Shannon Knapp is the co-owner and President of Horse
Sense of the Carolinas an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and
Learning Center near Asheville, North Carolina. Horse Sense
specializes in individual, family and group therapy sessions,
leadership training and workshops geared towards personal
and professional growth. She can be reached by visiting http://www.HorseSenseOtc.com
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