Horses help healing
"Thinking outside the therapy box"
When Jackie Emmons needed a new perspective on life she turned to a horse, of course. The London woman “was going through a difficult time and knew there was something (she) would gain; horses are incredibly intuitive.”
Emmons travelled to Monique Gerber’s Leading Edge Equine Academy outside of Woodstock to work with Gerber through her equine assisted learning (EAL) programs. Having experienced other forms of therapy, Emmons sought alternative solutions. “I wanted to get direction in a way that didn’t require me to exhume old emotions again (like during talk therapy), I needed to gain clarity in a different way.”
Gerber has been offering equine assisted learning for two years and recently built a large barn to enable her to offer programming year-round. She offers half and full day team-building programs that enable attendees to learn to work in concert through doing activities with horses.
For example, Gerber calls one Push Me/Pull You, in which different length ropes are attached to the horse’s bridle and three participants (two human, one horse) negotiate an obstacle course. Rules require that the human participants not step over a wood rail barrier placed around the path, but the horse can, which often reveals who understands the challenge more thoroughly, explained Gerber.
“It’s an exercise in cooperation and communication,” she said. “The horse is a full partner in the exercise and often shows clues to solve it, if the other two team members are able to pick up on them.”
Gerber also works with therapists like Marcy Stocking, of Domestic Abuse Services Oxford, who brings her clients out to the farm for therapy sessions.
“People who have been in abusive relationships often feel they aren’t capable. This can help them work through triggers and reinforce their problem-solving skills,” said Stocking.
Social worker and equine therapist Rebecca Brown works with Gerber, and she has a separate equine-based practice with Sue Hatherell called Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT), based just north of the city by Arva.
Brown has been a therapist for 30 years and Hatherell is an equine specialist and coach who has been working with horses since she was eight years old. Both women, as well as Gerber, are certified by the Equine Growth and Assisted Living Association (EGALA).
Brown explains that EAT is often mistaken for riding programs for disabled individuals or riding lessons. Neither EAL or EAT involve riding horses.
“It’s experiential therapy or learning,” said Brown. “Because horses are fight or flight animals they easily pick up on energy and emotions; they are very instinctive.”
She and Hatherell have worked with clients from age eight upwards and say that it’s helpful in many therapeutic situations.
From team building to families dealing with relationship issues, equine therapy and learning can help “reveal communication breakdowns in relationships” and subsequently assist in improving cooperation and promote healing.