• Second Opinion Magazine

A Horse Is a Horse, of Course, Unless It Is Also a Therapist

by Toni Mattson; Co-Owner Trinity Equestrian Center

When I look at a horse, I see more than the average person does. Yes, I see the childhood icon, the athlete, the friend, and the ribbon winner, but I also see a therapist. A therapist with more intuition and skill than any doctorate could ever provide. Not just a therapist that won’t judge for what is said, but one that brings healthy growth to those that have had their childhood stolen, trauma buried by years of unforgiveness and shame or the secretive cloud of depression. Skeptical?  Good, read on.

Trauma and depression come in all shapes and sizes. It could be a young girl who suffered sexual or physical abuse, a veteran haunted by nightmares of war-time experiences, or a myriad of other possibilities. No matter the cause or description, it is all stored deep inside a person’s being and psyche. The challenge is to effectively get at it.

The horse offers a breathtaking alternative to the traditional talk-therapy and medication approach. It’s an alternative that takes place every time you are in the presence of a horse. It’s called equine assisted psychotherapy (EAP), and it is changing lives.

EAP takes a horse, a mental health practitioner, and a trained equine specialist, and puts them in the arena with a client and a task. As the client does or does not attempt the task, the horse goes to work. A horse’s natural ability to read body language sees beyond words, and sometimes even reveals more than the client was aware of. The equine specialist and mental health practitioner take the information that the horse gives them, and use the horse to work through the issues that surface.

This therapy is ideal for those clients who do not respond well to talk therapy. Vaults that were once tightly shut, open much faster than in more traditional therapy settings. Clients that might often refuse to attend talk therapy come to this therapy eager and ready to move forward.

It is known that horses never lie. Pain hurts, depression is real, aggression has consequences, and body language has meaning. The horse is not only a creature that can accurately reveal what is going on internally, but one that can be trusted. This is a creature that is not being paid to sit and pry. One that is easy to love, difficult to live up to, even harder to manipulate, and worthy of the trust it takes to identify and solve emotional, mental, and social problems. The horse is the most important therapist in the room—the other two are simply there for translation.

Nothing speaks to the effectiveness of this therapy like measurable results. Difficult social skills, negative behaviors, and ill-managed emotions are all revealed by the horse and outwardly realized by the client within very few sessions. We know we’re making progress when medications are reduced, treatment plans are revised after only three sessions because original goals have been met, or self-realizations are reached in just a few arena sessions versus many more generally needed in an office setting.

This amazing therapy sounds like something only offered somewhere distant, and the fact is that it is currently taking place in thirty-eight countries around the world with over 4,100 practitioners. Trinity Equestrian Center right here in Eau Claire has been offering EAP since 2009 with incredible results. Please visit www.trinity-ec.com, and the next time you see a horse, imagine the possibilities.

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