Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is a form of therapy which has an emerged in recent years which uses horses as a tool for emotional development and a collaboration between a qualified therapist and a horse professional. EAP can be intense and as such its effectiveness, is considered by some as a short-term approach.
As with Natural Awareness EAP is experiential in nature. Which means that the participants learn about themselves and others by taking part in activities in this case with horses, and in Natural Awareness simply being in Nature or by taking on the role of an animal or bird even encountering animals directly (I refer to my experience with a squirrel and someone I worked with in Spain who had a powerful lesson given to him by a Chaffinch,) at the end of each activity or exercise the group processes (or discusses) their feelings, behaviors, and patterns that they either saw in themselves or in others and which can be attributed to their own behaviour as well as that of others.
Horses provide a valuable opportunity for metaphorical learning, they have the ability to mirror exactly what human body language is telling them. Some people complain that the horse is stubborn, it will not do what I tell it, or that the horse does not like me. But in essence the lesson to be learned here is that if the individual changes, then the horse will respond differently.
Here is my experience of one such encounter with a horse.
Some years ago while working in an addiction treatment centre I had the opportunity to attend an EAP session with two of my colleagues I of course jumped at the opportunity to experience something new and truth be known I had a slight fear of horses as I was once thrown from one when I was at boarding school in Cheltenham as a boy.
On arrival we were presented with two horses one was a rather large brown horse which looked very strong and I was not sure if I could deal with him, the other however was a small white horse which came over to me as a female (later I found out it was a male) I felt I could deal with this size of horse so I choose this horse to work with me.
The task I was given was to try and rope my horse and then to walk it back to where the counsellors were waiting. I dually set off with rope in hand. However, every time I got close to my horse it would walk away from me, it was always just a few feet in front of me and it almost felt like we were engaged in a game of chase and that the horse was having fun with me. But of course it was more serious than that.
All kinds of emotions went through me from the horse does not like me, to feeling uncomfortable, unsure of myself, afraid of getting physically hurt. Then eventually, I got to a place of surrender at which point the horse allowed me to approach it and to put on the rope on her. This was the first time I had ever done anything like this and it felt great, I could feel my confidence grow but always aware of my own vulnerability.
I then walked the horse back to the counsellors and removed the rope, the horse then took a small step to the side away from me, it was about six feet away and it just stood there as we made eye contact with each other. The counsellor and friend then asked me why I took the rope off and why do I think the horse stepped away in the way that it did,. This was a truly an amazing experience because what came up for me was how I feel about relationships and my expectations of them and how I do not want to be tied down but I do want to be close to someone.
I learnt so much more from this experience, I just wanted to share a brief part of what took place and to share with you how powerful it is working with animals and nature, it is important to realise also that horses are honest animals and that they mirror your feelings and behaviour.
Nature, Mother Earth is my teacher we would do well to listen to her.