Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

Dr. Joseph Lancia
75 Walker Rd
Hilton, NY 14468
Phone: (585) 392-3492
windhorsefarmllc@gmail.com

Reflections on the Transition to Equine Specialist in the EAP Treatment Team

 

By

Christine Cane

 

I have been a horse woman for most of my life, involved with raising and training horses. When I was asked to come and see what Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) was about and to work with Dr. Lancia as part of a treatment team, I jumped at the chance. I thought what a great opportunity to work with my favorite animal!

 

I have owned and shown horses for over 22 years, and this both prepared me and limited me for what I was about to learn. My experience as a horse woman quickly became challenged and made me think about those skills in a different way. When a client enters the arena or pasture with our team it is truly a different world. Initially, and even at times today, I have the impulse to jump in to assist the client with the exercise, give them hints to make it easier for them or cheer them on to encourage them. This response has required me to look at my own beliefs that prompt such a response and where they might come from.

 

I have slowly learned that if I were to follow through on my inclination to “assist” the client, the outcome could be totally different. I would take away their opportunity to discover strengths within themselves and the chance to be creative in finding solutions of their own. To see a smile and sense of accomplishment when a task is completed their way and on their own is gratifying to me; I can only imagine how they must feel. So many things coming from the “horse world” have to be unlearned when working in the field of EAP. For example, seeing a client put a halter on the horse for the first time brought two thoughts into my head: The first one being “Yes!” and the second one being “It’s on the wrong way”. I have come to learn through experience of doing this work that there is no wrong way. There are many solutions to approaching an activity and the one that is found by the client offers important information about them and how they approach other problems in their life outside the pasture.

Seeing the horses relate to the clients is something that took me by surprise. Having owned my horses for many years, we are used to each other and I developed a sense of who they are and what behavior patterns they display. But seeing a horse react to one client one way, and the next client in a completely different way, gave me a whole new perspective and appreciation for these animals. The horses in this work truly get a sense of the person and the issue the person is working on, often mirroring emotions that the client is dealing with or might not be aware of at the time of the session.

 

Sometimes the horse will respond to the person and the activity being set up one way and at other times the horse will respond to the person and the activity in a completely different fashion. One area that I have found useful from my experience as a horse woman to my role in the EAP treatment team is the observation of the horse’s behavior. This can lead to a curiosity of what might be going on for the horse, the client and the relationship between the two. It was another challenge for me to realize that it was most helpful to make only the observation of the non verbal behaviors without assigning meaning to it. The meaning comes from the client as each can bring a different meaning to the same non verbal behavior I would notice. The non verbal information from the horses, and the meaning brought by the client about these become a metaphor. At this point Dr. Lancia would often invite the client to consider a connection of the meaning to other areas of their life. The first few times I saw this process unfold and even in sessions today, it amazes me the impact this type of learning can have on an individual. When I observe the client make a connection between the relationship with the horse and solutions utilized in the activities to other areas of their life, and witness the shift in the individual and the behavior of the horse in response to this process, it can be quite powerful.

 

I don’t believe there will ever come a day when I will not continue to learn and be amazed at what transpires in a session. There is always something new even when the same activity is used in subsequent sessions. This experience has brought me to a new level of understanding of horses and my respect for them but also to a new understanding of myself.