Balancing the World of Equine Facilitated Wellness

In recent years, the addition of horses as a way to enhance traditional therapeutic environments has risen in popularity. This rise in popularity has brought with it an overwhelming number of training and certification programs, each providing its own beliefs, methods and even acronyms for integrating horses into client sessions. These training programs range from weekend workshops, to week long training, to training that has several training sessions and ongoing mentorship / certification requirements that must be met by the facilitator. The actual implementation of each method is slightly different, but all have the same focus, to aid the client in some type of personal growth.

Individual client sessions will look very different, depending on the training method that is being followed by the facilitator. Some sessions follow a prescribed set of lessons and are somewhat scripted, others are more free flowing and allow the client or facilitator to address things as they come up, other methods rely on interpreting the horse’s reactions to the client. The integration of horses into a session can vary from watching a herd on the outside of a fence, to interacting with the herd in the field, to working with the horse at liberty, to grooming, to leading, to completing obstacles, to mounted work being led by a facilitator, to actual horseback riding, to learning horsemanship skills, to riding lessons and even physical or occupational therapy using the movement of the horse.

As you can see, with the rise in Equine Wellness programs being offered, it is important to do your research to ensure you are going to achieve the results you are after. To help clarify a bit, there are a few general areas that Equine Wellness Programs fall under, do any of these terms ring a bell?

Learning Programs:

  • Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL)
  • Equine Facilitated Personal Growth (EFPG)
  • Equine Assisted Learning (EAL)
  • Equine Assisted Personal Growth (EAPG)

These programs are often Goal based and work on teaching skills and strategies that will aid the client in overcoming challenges they face in life on a day to day basis. These may be anxiety management, acceptance, relationship building, leadership skills, communication skills, sensory work, self regulation, team work, calming techniques, executive functioning, tutoring and more. They cover a wide variety of client types and needs. Facilitators for these programs usually have some type of instructional back ground – teachers, life coaches, horse back riding coaches, horsemanship instructors etc.

Mental Health Programs:

  • Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP)
  • Equine Facilitated Mental Health (EFMH)
  • Equine Assisted Counselling (EAC)
  • Equine Therapy (ET)

These programs are similar to the learning programs in fact a session will look almost the same. Where these programs differ is they are not only working on teaching the skills to manage current challenges, but will also go deeper to help the client overcome past issues and traumas. This style of program is offered by mental health professionals – counsellors, psychologists, social workers etc.

Physical Therapy Programs:

  • Equine Assisted Occupational Therapy
  • Hippotherapy

These are the programs that come to mind for most people when they think of Equine Therapy. In these programs the horse is used as a physical therapy tool. The clients often have some type of special physical needs, and are seated on the horse to help gain muscle control, strength or calm. Clients gain strength from the movement of the horse, and their own body movements. They can be seated in a variety of ways from special saddles to laying on the horse backwards feeling the bi-lateral movement. These programs are offered by specially trained professionals, generally Occupational and Physical Therapists.

Horsemanship and Equine Therapy Programs:

  • Natural Horsemanship
  • Centered Riding
  • Horseback Riding Coaches
  • The Tellington Method
  • Masterson Method
  • Equine Chiropractors

There are too many Horsemanship styles and programs to list here. These programs focus on developing and training horses. They teach handlers and riders how to be good leaders and how to develop their horses using a particular method. Although these programs are not true Equine Facilitated or Assisted Wellness Programs they offer the handler a chance to develop leadership skills and gain confidence when working with their animals. These programs are offered by people knowledgeable in a particular method. Sometimes it is his or her own method, other times they have been trained in someone else’s program. As for the Equine Therapy Programs, these focus on the horse and its well being. These programs include conditioning, massage, chiropractic adjustment, nutritional plans and tack fitting etc.

Here is the Million Dollar Question:

“What is it I do with the horses at Summersend?”

Most people are amazed at what the horses offer to clients. Horses bring with them a sense of acceptance and calming when they are added to a client session. Horses are incapable of lying, and their reactions are unconditional. When horses become part of the client relationship, it is often one of the first times the clients are able to truly trust another being and feel understood. There is no judgment or old grudges being drug up, horses live in the moment and allow the client to be drawn in and to live in the moment too.

As for what I ‘do’ at Summersend Balance, that is a question with no single answer. My training falls into the Learning Programs category. I am a teacher trained in Equine Facilitated Learning. The training program I chose to attend was the longer certification process that required a number of weeks away for training, practicum hours and other certification requirements, including continuing education and personal growth programs, first aid, horsemanship skills, continuing mentorship hours and more. It was a much longer process than some of the other training methods, but in the end I feel I am able to offer my clients much more support and help than I would have before. The skills I gained in counselling practices, client planning, horse care and safety are invaluable.

When clients come to Summersend Balance they are welcomed to my home as well. Client sessions are generally planned around the needs of each individual client, I do also offer group programs which follow certain themes or goals. Both individual sessions and group programs focus on building strong attachment relationships, developing courage, and finding calm. I am a strong believer in integrating nature into my sessions and programs. Clients work with the horses in the outdoors and nature becomes a big piece of what I offer. We will often go for nature walks, participate in mindfulness activities, and enjoy little hidden hideaways around the property.

I also believe creativity is a large part of personal growth. It allows the body to unwind and the mind to let go of tension. I integrate art activities into most sessions as well. These activities may be painting, drawing, coloring, art journaling, nature crafts and more. The horses are a huge part of the programs here, but are not the only part.

Although I am not a horsemanship instructor, or horseback riding coach, I do integrate basic horsemanship skills into the sessions. These skills help clients develop self confidence, leadership and communication skills. These skills are mainly ground work based and often include obstacle work and other equine safety skills. Depending on the client and his or her needs we may even progress to some riding activities. It is a slow process, and the focus is on building client skills not so much on building horse skills. As mentioned above, there are many horsemanship programs people follow, I lean toward a more Natural Horsemanship Approach, mainly Rother Horsemanship and Centered Riding methods.

The world of Equine Facilitated Wellness is huge and wide open. Each Facilitator and program is slightly different and each offers its own amazing benefits. Whether clients are participating in Equine Facilitated Learning, Equine Facilitated Mental Health or even Horsemanship programs clients are sure to experience powerful personal growth in their lives. I aim to offer clients a safe place to learn who they are and experience all the horses, nature and our programs can provide.It is an experience that will stick with them for a life time.