Horse-Assisted Therapy

horse-assisted therapy

Sharon Campbell Rayment experienced a horseback riding accident in 2008 that changed her life forever. She had no idea that healing would be achieved through horse-assisted therapy.

Ten days after her accident, Sharon awoke, only to realize she had lost the ability to speak. When she was able to speak again, she discovered she had a wee Scottish brogue. She is one of only 60 people in the world with Foreign Accent Syndrome, a condition in which patients attain a foreign dialect as the result of a head trauma.

Days blurred into weeks and months as Sharon experienced a hypersensitivity to noise, lights and crowds that isolated her from her family, prevented her from returning to work and took away her enjoyment of life. “It was not until February of 2009 that I had a definite memory,” she says. “Before that, I flowed in and out of depression, sinking into the abyss for months. The woman I was before the accident had disappeared and I desperately wanted her to return.”

Equine support system

In the spring of 2009, Sharon was led to the FEEL (Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning) Program at Horse Spirit Connections. “In the presence of these quiet, non-judgmental horses, my confidence grew and my stuttering decreased as I learned to breathe deeply and be present to the moment, rather than losing myself in negative internal dialogue,” she says. “I was able to understand and compassionately accept and adjust to my ‘spatial claustrophobia’ when I was around others, and this enabled me to appreciate emotional intelligence and resiliency, and allow my feelings to support, rather than overwhelm me. The immediacy of the horses’ response, their art of non-verbal communication and mirroring of my feelings and thoughts, enabled me to go beyond the traditional treatment therapies I had previously accessed.”

Sharon is now a graduate of the FEEL Certification program. Today, she and her herd of 11 horses help others ‘create harmony within’, as she did with the horses at Horse Spirit Connections. She specifically deals with what she defi nes as “CLD – the Cope Less Disorder”, experienced by many who have had mild to moderate brain trauma and are less able to cope with light, noise and crowds.

Horses help people reconnect

Both Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) and Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) are new healing modalities in which the participant is at the center of their own experience with the horse as teacher, and practitioners facilitating their learning by providing observation and feedback.

  • Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy is a powerful and effective therapeutic approach that maximizes the partnerships of therapist and facilitator with the horse as teacher. This dynamic therapy helps people confront their fears and heal their wounds, reconnecting them with their natural ability to heal.
  • Equine Facilitated Learning is based on an emotionally intimate partnership with the horse, where the greatest potential for health and well being can be found. Using mindfulness techniques, people learn more effectively as they find their own answers from within, instead of seeking answers from an expert. The horses go straight to the heart of the matter and bring about positive change.

It has been said that horse-assisted therapy can bring about change more rapidly. One of the reasons is that instead of actively seeking to intellectually resolve past issues, new patterns of thoughts, feelings and somatic experiences are created and strengthened.


How horse-assisted therapy works

Engaging with horses allows people to experience pure, authentic relationships, often for the first time. They feel safe exploring ‘relationship’ with a horse who offers unconditional support and love, without judgment. This starts the process of trusting self and others.

Horse-assisted therapy and being in the presence of a horse brings feelings to the surface. This creates an opportunity for emotional learning as people identify their feelings with greater ease and clarity, opening the door to new choices for relationship and emotional growth. The horse-human experience also lays the foundation for safe physical affection. For some, feeling the healing benefits of non-threatening touch is a rare opportunity. Being hugged by a horse is a profound and tender moment.

After horse-assisted therapy, people better understand their own behavior when they see it reflected in the horse. They begin to see themselves and the world in new ways, helping them self-regulate and develop rapport. The large physical presence of the horse provides a means for people to confront fear and gain more courage and confidence. Performance accomplishment is the single most efficient way to increase self-confidence.

Who benefits from EFP?

An alternative to more traditional ‘talk therapy’, this modality can help adolescents and adults deal with a wide variety of mental health issues: Negative patterns

  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Burnout
  • Substance abuse/addiction
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Sexual/physical abuse issues

Horse-Assisted Therapy is a powerful and transformative experience for anyone seeking change in their lives. It is rapidly gaining credibility as people talk about their amazing experiences with these majestic creatures. While scientists and doctors are continually finding new evidence of how this relationship with horses manifests change, the horses continue to demonstrate that it works!