Equine Therapy is a great form of therapy for kids, it provides many benefits including: kids generally love to be outside, they get to talk to a therapist about their problems and take part in exercises and play games to find solutions, they learn to look after and care for someone other than themselves, they learn how to form relationships and maintain relationships, they learn how to focus and set boundaries and the horses provide a non-judgemental friend to talk to.
The horses also teach kids valuable life skills like;
Being present, noticing how you feel about something and trusting that feeling; Being honest, horses are very honest and will give immediate feedback about whether they are comfortable or not;
Being congruent- saying what you feel and not pretending you are ok if you are not;
Awareness- being curious about everything around you, using all of your senses; Empathy- building a relationship with a horse requires empathy, it’s important to be curious about the horse and who he is and how different things feel otherwise the horse won’t trust you;
Clear communication skills- horses read our body language and respond to it, kids learn how to work with their own body language and how to read the horses body language in order to remain safe and build a relationship with the horse.
Horses also help kids to build confidence and self esteem- it takes a lot of courage and skill to build a relationship with a horse and to have the horse respect your wishes.
In our equine therapy sessions, the kids often arrive with no horse experience, some kids are terrified and some are so excited that we have to use delay tactics at the gate! We start our sessions doing activities with each other about respectful touch and safety around horses. I want anyone who works alongside the horses to treat them with respect and kindness and so we talk about how to do that before we even enter the arena. These activities help the kids to become more aware of how their actions might impact others, it makes them slow down and think and explore different possibilities about behaviour.
In the sessions with the horses, the kids explore different ways of relating to the horses; what do I need to do to get the horse to want to be with me? What do I need to do to help the horse to calm down?
The horses provide instant feedback so kids get to see straight away how they are influencing the horse and then they have an opportunity to try another way. For example; Simon is a 13-year-old boy with Aspergers, he finds it very difficult to focus and to notice body language and non-verbal cues in others. Simon was doing an exercise with Phoenix and then he started to loose focus, Phoenix started to walk around in circles and stopped listening to Simon. Phoenix knew that Simon was no longer present and aware so Phoenix took the lead. Noticing Phoenix take over, Simon took some deep breaths and become present to himself, he started to connect with Phoenix again by talking to him and breathing deep. Phoenix stopped and came into Simon to rest beside him.
The horses provide really clear feedback to kids and an opportunity to build a friendship based on trust and connection.