March 8th, 2018
I always thought there was only one model of “horse therapy”, until I met professionals who work with autistic kids and other patients based on Equine Assisted Therapy Programs. There are basically three major types that include:
1. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) and Equine Assisted Learning (EAL)
2. Therapeutic Horseback Riding
It still amazes me, how God orchestrates my life, pushing me out of my comfort zone to meet people I would otherwise never cross paths with, like my new friend Christy, who is both a film producer and mom of a special needs child. She recently made an equine movie “Unbridled”, which beautifully portrays emotional, physical and spiritual healing through contact with rescue horses. It’s based on true to life stories at Equine Assisted Therapy centers including Corral Riding Center in North Carolina. The movie itself won several awards in various Film Festivals. It was recently screened at the EAGALA Conference in Tennessee. That’s where I met all these wonderful people who told me about their equine-assisted therapy programs. My eyes were opened (and often filled with tears) after hearing their patients’ life changing stories.
I realized even more how blessed we are to send our Booboo to a school that incorporates hippotherapy into their academic program. It’s a privilege! I witnessed with my own eyes how calm Michael and his classmates were once sitting on a horse, hugging its neck, feeling the movement, heartbeat etc. I always thought our boy would be terrified of horses, because of their size. But I couldn’t be more wrong. He fell in love with “Cookie” from the first touch.
You see, horses are very intuitive animals and possess this shrewd sense of awareness to everything that is going on in their environment. They are extremely sensitive to the actions of humans and have the supernatural ability to pick up on our non-verbal behavior. Horses are completely honest in the way they react to situations. They do not have the ability to lie, fake or gauge their reactions to pardon anyone’s feelings. Sound familiar? They are particularly useful with children (and adults) who are unable or unwilling to verbally communicate their thoughts and feelings.
I have learned that there are several different models used in Equine Assisted Therapy that offer different treatments, depending on child’s needs. Let’s take EAGALA model for example. They believe in “Team Approach”, which means that in each session a Mental Health professional, an Equine Specialist and horses that work together with their patients. Kids in this program practice what they call “focus on the ground”, which unlike hippotherapy, does not include horseback riding. Instead, they utilize effective and deliberate techniques where the horses are metaphors in specific ground-based experiences. EAGALA model is solution-oriented, which means that rather than instructing or directing solutions, they allow kids to experiment, problem-solve, take risks, employ creativity, and find their own solutions that work best for them. The activities may range from simply being in the horse’s presence to asking the horse to navigate an obstacle course, etc.
I found out that many of these equine therapy centers offer programs that are free of charge for kids on the spectrum or with physical impairments. I advise you to check if there is one near you, and get your child in their program as soon as possible! The healing that comes as a result is priceless.