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.

Finding Balance

Christmas has come and gone, as have all the holiday and New Year celebrations. Winter has settled in here at Summersend, and with it has come the time to contemplate and plan for the coming year. The last two years have been incredibly rewarding for me working in the field of Equine Facilitated Wellness. I have had several amazing experiences both with horses and clients alike. I have developed a wonderful herd of equine partners to work with, each with their own strengths and personalities. I truly feel I am in the right place and am excited for all the possibilities in 2017.

I have spent the last couple months thinking about and really focusing the goals and direction I have for the EFW work I plan to do in the coming year. I have continued to take more training and have a number of other courses to attend in 2017. With this additional knowledge and training I believe the Summersend Equestrian and Wellness I started out with two years ago has grown and changed, as everything does over time, into something so much more than I imagined it would become.

With this growth and change, I feel some more concrete changes are in order. Over the next few months, I will be making announcements about programs, services and other great events I have planned, as well as bits of exciting news here and there. I will be integrating new knowledge and skills into my existing work, as well as expanding to meet the needs of even more clients. I want everyone (children, youth, adults and families) to be able to experience the personal growth and development Equine Facilitated programs can offer.

Today, I am extremely excited to unveil my new and improved business name! After much thought and contemplation, I have decided the name Summersend Equestrian and Wellness does not fully speak to what we do here at Summersend. This new name is shorter, and speaks directly to what I aim to do: to help clients find balance in their lives through equine facilitated personal development programs. Because its not just about horses, and not just about kids; its about how we can all benefit from the space horses give us to grow, its about being in nature and embracing what it has to offer, its about being mindful, compassionate and courageous, its about finding a place of rest and the ability to play and learn, its about building healthy relationships and above all its about finding your own personal Balance.

I welcome you all to the new and improved Summersend Balance!

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Rest – Play – Grow

img_2437I just returned from a wonderful workshop with Dr. Deborah MacNamara. Deborah is a faculty member of the Neufeld Institute and an expert on Dr. Gordon Neufeld’s work in Attachment Theory. She has written this book to help anyone working with, caring for or parenting pre-schoolers or those of any age with pre-school type behaviours. It is based in Neufeld’s attachment theory research and offers an intuitive and comprehensive approach to parenting, caregiving and teaching alike. Definitely a must read.

Our programs at Summersend are based in Neufeld’s attachment theory. We believe in building strong relationships and offering clients the freedom to grow. In addition to this, MacNamara explains the importance of play in the development of young children. We believe that by integrating the animals, as we do in all of our programs, it adds a more nature based type of play for our clients. I strongly believe in nature being a big part of our sessions and programs as it allows clients to be grounded and opens up their minds to imagination.

MacNamara’s message is that strong attachments bring emotional rest and emotional rest brings play and play brings emotional development. Play must be unstructured and have no other agenda than to simply be play. It can not be work or be outcome based, just simply be children finding themselves and exploring different situations in a a safe environment. Without rest and play there can be no growth. My goal is to help all of my clients to find those attachments so they can find true play and growth in their lives.

For more information and to read other articles by Deborah you can visit her website at http://www.macnamara.ca.

Poseidon

Ah, Poseidon! Every horse person needs that one horse that is his or her very own. Poseidon is mine. He is a 9 year old Quarter Horse gelding with the registered name ‘Cool to be Grey.’ Last fall I decided it was time to look for a younger, more athletic horse for myself to work with and train. After reading a lot of ads and talking to a lot of people, this boy finally came along at just the right moment.

‘Si’ is as cool as they come. He is quiet and willing but can also be sensitive and fun. He came to us from a family in Smithers, who found he just didn’t have quite enough ‘go’ for their needs. He has spent the last few years as more of a trail and ranch type horse. He loves to get out and explore. Its like he has four-wheel drive, just powers down and will walk all day long.

Being a trail horse, Poseidon has not done much other, more disciplined riding. We have been working together to help him get used to steering using a bit (he had been ridden primarily in a halter) as well as responding to leg pressure. He has come a long way and I am super happy with him.

This summer we attended a number of clinics together; the most exciting of which were two back to back clinics with Steve Rother, the winner of the Mane Event Trainers Challenge in Reddeer this past April. It was an incredible experience and what a change I saw in my horse. This was exactly the purpose I had in mind when I purchased him, to work together on horsemanship skills and to develop a long-term partnership. I look forward to trying out some Cowboy Trail Obstacle Courses and Western Dressage with this handsome fellow.

He is always in the herd and is happy to come say hi to clients. He especially loves treats and to go for walks. We do not use him as a regular program horse, but occasionally he is brought out to join in a wellness session or nature walk. Si is a sweet boy that I am sure you all will love.

Kahlua

Kahlua is the newest member of the Summersend Herd. She is a 14 year old B.C. Wild horse from the interior of BC. She looks like a life size teddy bear with her dark bay body, brown nose and thick coat. Although Kahlua is new to the heard, she has already made it clear she is happy to take on the roll of the lead mare.

Earlier this summer we decided it was time for Candy to take her teaching on the road, which meant it was time for Aurora to find a new equine partner. Kahlua joined our herd to do just that. In the past, she had been a beginner show horse and reliable pleasure horse. Kahlua has attended numerous jumping, english and western pleasure horse shows, riding lessons, jumping camps and Doug Mills clinics. Together she and Aurora will be working to complete Aurora’s 2017 4H project, and develop her skills in leadership, horsemanship and equine care. Aurora has given her the ‘show name’ Midnight’s Kahlua, but you will often hear us simply call her ‘Lou’.

Kahlua is an active member of the heard but has not yet started working as a program horse. She can, at times, be a bit mischievous. She enjoys testing our fences just to check and see if the grass really is greener on the other side. We often see her pushing down the top wires to eat on the other side, or stretching over the electric fence to get at the bale stack. Another favorite of hers is to let the wind blow through her mane and tail as she gallops across the back field.

We look forward to introducing her to our clients. As Aurora says ‘She has a big heart and a soft eye that will take over your heart and make you melt inside.

Photo Credits to: Wild Knight Horse Photography and Showcasephoto.ca

 

 

Snowman

Snowman is the oldest member of our herd. At around 28-30 years old he is a true senior. He came to us from a wonderful woman in southern BC, who was no longer able to meet the needs of this aging horse. She was looking for a loving, forever home where ‘Snowy’ could continue passing on his gifts to clients both young and old. He could not have been a better fit for our program. He seems to understand what each and every one of our clients need, and gives it with his whole heart. All you have to do is simply look into his eyes and you will fall in love.

Snowy had a bit of a rough start to life, as an Arabian horse he was bred for endurance. In his younger years he was in training for endurance racing, which included working in some more challenging terrain. He sustained an over-use injury to his rear suspensory ligaments, which has lead to advanced Suspensory Disease in his hind legs. This has caused his legs to straighten and his lower joints to weaken. It does not seem to cause him any pain, but he does move a bit slower than the other horses. For this reason, we do not use Snowy for many riding activities, and only for our younger/smaller clients when we do.

Age is starting to take its toll on Snowy. He has struggled with weight gain this year, and gets a daily high calorie mash to help him along. A recent visit to our vet gave him a good bill of health and some newly floated teeth to get him ready for winter. We look forward to some amazing years to come with this boy.