Here is an account of one client’s experience of equine-facilitated therapy, in their own words (straight from the horse’s mouth, you might say):
I am reliably informed that horses mirror our internal emotions; so if we are not congruent with what we say and do, the horse will illustrate that in how they are with us. Before I entered the paddock my therapist and I stood and quietly scanned our bodies for any areas of tension, breathing deeply to enhance a sense of mindful relaxation. I could have fallen asleep standing up as I rocked gently, sensing the gentle breeze on my face.
In we went – the first session involved two ponies, Jazz and Tia. Jazz is apparently top of the pecking order even though Tia seemed to be bigger; I walked around the field with the two ponies, sometimes feeding them some grass; they mostly ate grass anyway and weren’t that bothered about me. I murmured something about them not really knowing me yet and perhaps they were taking time to get to know me. (Note, that was about me, and how I take time to get to know people). We got to know each other a bit more and at one point they both came towards me and were very close, almost nuzzling. I had to do an exercise which involved me holding a plastic bowl of carrots and horse treats, together with a riding crop. This was to illustrate how well I held my boundaries in that I held the crop out to deter the horses from helping themselves. As they saw me with the bowl they came straight up… “yum, carrots” they might have been thinking. A simple wave of the crop and they were at the back of the field within minutes, away from me. Strong boundaries?
The following week involved some exercises with a chosen pony, I chose Jazz. I had to lead Jazz into a circle that was made to “enclose” her and this was to illustrate my “leadership” skills. It was easy to lead her round using a rope but it was less easy to make her go backwards. Time to hone my leadership skills.
The week after that I had to work with one of them again, with the other forming the part of the “glamorous assistant”. I had to lead a horse round a sort of assault course which had several elements to it. Cones to weave in and out of, four poles that the horse had to step over, a marked out area in a square like an enclosure and a small 6-inch high jump.
Each part of the course I chose to represent a part of my life and I had to lead the horse around, with the glamorous assistant (aka Tia) standing by or joining in.
Weaving in and out of “life events” was something that I warmed to, as did Jazz. Going over the little poles she was a tad reluctant but came anyway (areas of my life that I had to move over before I could continue; perhaps illustrating my desire for procrastination? ) The enclosure was the biggest challenge in that I saw it as my marriage; somewhere I had felt trapped in life and the horse proved to be very reluctant to step in with me; my holding back and yet pulling her in was perhaps incongruent; I didn’t really want to go there and neither did she. The hopping over the final hurdle could be seen as a number of life events – perhaps moving on from the marriage, or completing my Open University studies and the horse was slow and nearly chucked the pole but we got there in the end. Lots of symbolic food for thought.
My final session involved a different pony altogether called Quilha. This is a horse used by a para-rider (people who have a disability) and she was very friendly, instantly came up to us when we entered the paddock; once she saw us she then went to the back of the field and over the gate was another horse in the paddock. I stayed relatively close to them as I stroked and petted them; and they spent the majority of the hour playing a bit like naughty siblings, Quilha being “top horse” (well, it was her paddock) and almost fighting the other horse in the paddock to keep back. Quilha nuzzled me in a friendly way, and then Daisy seemed to copy her. I fed Quilha some grass and I think we became friends.
All in all my experience of Equine Facilitated Therapy has shown me that I do have a lot of respect for horses and there is still an element of fear of the majestic creature and I have learned that I do often keep people at arms’ length until I know them well; I have strong boundaries which are my protection but generally I felt accepted by the ponies and thus also accept myself. The quiet acceptance of the ponies is in itself therapeutic and taking time out from simply talking about issues was a welcome break. Thank you to Sarah from www.ashlar-evolution.comfor the experience. I thoroughly recommend it!