Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy pairs horses with people to overcome emotional issues, conditions, & physical trauma - similar to traditional psychological counselling.

Psychotherapist Joan Rieger, MA, LPC, of the Gestalt Equine Institute of the Rockies, explains how and why Equine Assisted Psychotherapy or horse-centred therapy works to help people overcome grief, psychological issues, and even physical problems. Rieger also describes how Equine Assisted Psychotherapy differs from traditional psychological counselling.

“Horses are teachers of self-awareness,” says Reiger. “They are keenly alert, intuitive, emotional, and authentic animals. Like humans, horses are social beings that live together in herds with defined hierarchies, roles, responsibilities, and relationships very similar to our family systems. Equine-assisted psychotherapy offers the client new opportunities and choices for relationship and emotional growth.

It never ceases to amaze me that the horses appear to magically respond to a client or play out what a client is feeling or experiencing in her life. It isn't magic, but it looks like it. It allows clients to experience pure relationship – a mutually creative experience with another being without having to worry about the psychological baggage of another person. For some clients, working with the horses is the first time in their lives they've felt an authentic relationship with another being. This horse-centred relationship is about contact, connection, and influencing each other versus manipulating, over-powering, or abusing.

What makes Equine Assisted Psychotherapy different than traditional psychological counselling or psychotherapy?

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy asks clients to access different aspects of themselves versus their rational/analytical mind. It asks clients to become very aware of their emotions, and how they experience emotions in their body which is where trauma is held. Horses don't have the rational brain like we do, but they do have feelings, intuition, and keen instincts. So if we want to connect with them or we want them to connect to us, then we have to get away from talking and more into feeling and exploring the energetic exchange that happens between us and the horse.

A client can't resolve trauma by talking about it. They have to discharge it out of their nervous system, which means tracking feelings and sensations in the body. Horses know how to discharge trauma naturally, so clients can resonate with the horse's body and then feel how to do it in their own body. Also, the horses always hold very deep emotions for people which is incredibly impacting for clients to experience. So many of the client's wounds occur in relationship, so in order for them to be fully healed, they need to be explored and healed in relationship. Exploring that with a horse is vastly safer than with another human being, even if that human being is a therapist (a supposedly safe person). Horses always offer unconditional presence and love to people, and clients are constantly blown away when they feel the horses give that to them. It helps clients begin to trust again, to stop holding themselves back in life and begin to trust themselves to reengage in intimate relationships again.