Equine Assisted Psychotherapy at the Children’s Home

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is a specialized type of therapy for our youth that is offered at both the Enterprise campus and the Madison Youth Ranch. EAP sessions for our Enterprise campus involve taking the children to a nearby location where they can work with the horses. In the case of the Madison Youth Ranch, we have a stable and pasture for our two resident horses, Sugar and Shiloh (more about Shiloh later). Sessions on both campuses are done in the same way.

How does EAP work? EAP involves the combined use of horses, a licensed therapist and a horse specialist working with the child to address various individual psychotherapy treatment goals. This unique method enables the child to learn about themselves and others by actually participating in activities with the horses, and then processing or discussing their feelings with the therapist. The simple presence of a horse is considered therapeutic in itself since it is a dynamic and powerful living being. There is also a healing bond that can develop between humans and horses. EAP utilizes this relationship with the horse as a tool to mirror the child’s experiences and to facilitate change. Positive results can usually be seen as quickly as the first session. No riding experience is required since no riding is involved. The child interacts with and cares for the horse from the ground under the supervision of the horse specialist. Alexis Crothers Brown, Child & Family Therapist, explains how well it has worked at our Madison Youth Ranch. “Equine Assisted Psychotherapy has been an amazing tool to use with the children here. Some have a hard time talking and expressing the challenges they experience daily and the trauma experienced in their pasts. EAP has provided a way for the children to learn therapeutic tools relevant to them based on their interactions with the horses.”

Who benefits? EAP can benefit people of all ages, not just children. Some specific challenges that our children face that EAP can address include: behavioral issues, anger management, conflict resolution, depression, anxiety, stress, victims of abuse, and those lacking in self-esteem. One of our children told his therapist, “Equine therapy is challenging and helpful. At first I thought of quitting when I did it, but after a few sessions I realized that it was helping me learn about myself.”

Why horses? Horses offer several advantages. Obviously, their size offers a perfect opportunity for someone to overcome fear and develop confidence. Plus, just like people, horses experience a large variety of emotion, are intuitive and social animals with distinct personalities, attitudes and moods. They have defined roles within their herds comparable to human dynamics. Because of these similarities, horses can demonstrate and teach self-awareness, honest communication, trust, healthy boundaries, leadership, patience, assertiveness, play, affection, nurturance and more. Perhaps the most important reason is that horses have the ability to mirror exactly what a child’s body language is telling them and provide the child with a look at themselves which helps to facilitate change.

Madison Youth Ranch welcomes Shiloh! We recently added a new horse to the Stickney Stable at our Madison Youth Ranch. Shiloh has joined Sugar as the resident equines there to help the children. Shiloh was added after the passing of Pinkie earlier this year. Shiloh went through a transition period for a few weeks to make sure he was a good fit for Sugar and the children, and passed with flying colors. The children are thrilled to have Shiloh, who also seems quite happy to be there.