In a Powerful Way, Horses Help People Heal
As an emotional mirror for people, horses make it stick. Horses are social animals with defined roles within a herd. As we know, they have unique personalities, attitudes, and moods, and can respond to the feeling state we are experiencing. They also are highly attuned animals who offer a safe space for reflection and compelling feedback for fears and anxieties clients may be facing. Because of these unique qualities, horses can be incorporated to help people heal from a variety of psychological issues.
Eagala, the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, was founded in 1999 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit with the mission to set standards, provide support, and educate professionals who are changing lives world-wide through mental health services incorporating horses. In the last 20 years, over 2,500 mental health professionals and equine specialists have been trained and certified, operating over 500 Eagala Model mental health programs in 40 countries. In 2018 alone, these programs served 60,458 clients, confronting challenges such as post-traumatic stress disorder, human trafficking and abuse, addictions, depression, and other behavioral health issues. The Eagala Model can serve as a stand-alone service, or as an adjunct to talk therapy and can be a complement to services the mental health professional is already providing.
While “equine therapy” is a catchall term commonly used, it isn’t actually the correct term to apply to the many services incorporating horses to benefit people. Equine therapy can imply therapy for the horses, which this isn’t. Plus there are several services which are not professional therapy services. More appropriately called “equine-assisted services,” there are many types of services being provided. These include:
- Therapeutic (or adaptive) riding and horsemanship
- Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech and language therapy (commonly utilizing a treatment strategy called hippotherapy)
- Equine-assisted learning incorporating horses for personal and organizational development
- Equine-assisted psychotherapy where horses are incorporated for mental health services
Eagala is focused on psychotherapy and learning. It’s not recreational horsemanship, riding lessons, or therapeutic riding – in fact, it doesn’t involve riding at all. The Eagala Model is ground-based. It does not require you to have any previous experience with horses. This creates a physically and emotionally safe environment and enhances the accessibility of the treatment, as the horses and clients are each unencumbered and free to interact. It requires nothing of the horse except to be a horse, and nothing from the client except to be present to their experience.
Their collaborative team approach requires a licensed mental health professional, working with a qualified equine specialist, along with the horses and clients in all sessions and where each member of this team, including the horses, is considered an equal partner in the process.
The Eagala Model is a framework of standards and skill sets. Believing the best solutions come from within, the Eagala Model allows people the latitude to discover, learn, and grow from the unique qualities of the horse-human relationship. This innovative approach to holding space, and avoiding judgment and interpretation, frees the client to discover their own lasting solutions. They are empowered and strengthen their resiliency. The Eagala Model follows a standard of facilitation that creates lasting solutions to life’s obstacles.
The interaction between the horses and client allows for the processing of traumatic events experimentally, by doing rather than by talking about it. This opens the space for the client to feel empowered and to strengthen their resilience so they can rebound from difficult life events – to bounce back and grow and to see the parallels in how they might interact in other relationships and life situations. Since the solutions are personally experienced at an emotional and physical level, they tend to be deeper, more profound, and longer lasting. Interaction with the horses results in the client finding the strength to transform their life.
One of the first steps in a treatment session is to calm down emotions and feelings so the client can work through them. You can’t really make any progress if you’re overly stressed or fearful, and being with horses allows us to regulate and calm those crippling emotions. First of all, they are large and powerful – it’s hard to ignore a horse because of their size and presence.
Approaching horses helps clients reflect how they approach their relationships and how they can face other big or overwhelming things in their lives. Anyone seeking to improve the experience of their life can benefit from working with the Eagala Model. Some specific examples include people who are dealing with fear and trauma, such as military veterans, survivors of abuse, and people struggling with addictions. Another focus for Eagala is on organizational development, in helping create effective corporate team environments.
Collaboration through networking, both globally and locally, benefits all members and the reach of our message. Eagala is committed to excellence when it comes to certification – providing training, certification, and support for equine specialists and mental health practitioners around the world. Eagala’s Member Forum provides support and business resources, as well as continuing education opportunities where members can continue to grow in their professional development. Eagala has peer networking groups world-wide which provide local support, collaboration, and ongoing learning relevant to their local communities. Through in-person networking meetings and online connect calls, members share ideas and collaborate with one another. Skills learned through these varied channels can then be incorporated in order to look at things with a new perspective and make improvements and enhancements. We believe working together enhances each member’s effectiveness and program success.
Eagala provides an important and growing niche for horses who are rescued or being retired from competition or work, including those who can not be ridden – there are many horses who can fill roles in the Eagala Model helping transform lives. Our donors and sponsors have a unique opportunity to make a big impact in what is a massive need for mental health services, as well as providing for these horses.
The COVID-19 crisis has brought on a time of global fear, anxiety, loss, and trauma and intensified the need for mental health services for many individuals, families, and communities. Sadly, when a financial crisis hits, human trafficking, lost jobs and businesses, domestic violence, and homelessness increase. We are also seeing an increase in all sorts of mental health related issues like depression, PTSD, addictions, and more. It’s a heartbreaking situation, and Eagala is uniquely qualified and equipped to be on the front lines to address these problems.
Eagala’s team approach working collaboratively with clients to strengthen resilience and confront challenging mental health issues and stressors, provides a unique, engaging approach that works for many when traditional mental health methods do not. As the leading professional organization for mental health services incorporating horses, Eagala continues to work towards our vision of every person worldwide having access to these life-changing programs.
As the global pandemic continues, struggling with mental health issues is becoming another kind of epidemic. Processing fear, trauma and grief through psychotherapy sessions incorporating horses is a powerful way to help people everywhere work through this mental health crisis. Being able to work outside, in nature, connecting with horses through the Eagala Model can be a healing and life-changing experience. There is a need in the global community, and Eagala programs worldwide are working to fill that need.
American Equus has partnered with Eagala to help shift the emotional impact this global crisis is having through supporting the work we do in Eagala. They have made beautiful, limited edition t-shirts dedicated to our cause, and will donate 20% of the profits to Eagala. You can be a part of this mission to help our communities by visiting the American Equus website to shop the Eagala collection. Order your American Equus t-shirt to show your support!
Want another way to support Eagala? Head over to Dreamers & Schemers and grab a pair of the limited edition Eagala socks. They are super freaking cute (I’m totally getting a pair) but $5 of every sale goes directly to Eagala.
2020 Eagala Conference Future / Vision
Eagala in Practice Pt 1