I see two horses several times a week on my walks as I climb the hill next to their field. While I have never ridden or spent time with horses, as I’ve always lived in rural areas they’ve been familiar sights, part of the background of my life. And I particularly like donkeys. Many people find being around horses or donkeys to be relaxing, uplifting, soothing and restful. You might enjoy grooming a horse, riding along a bridlepath or simply watching horses over a field gate. Rural views can be calming anyway, but seeing animals in the landscape adds life and movement. Horses convey athleticism, grace, power and strength. Even now that we no longer depend on horses for transport or farming, most horses live closely with humans.
A few months ago I heard about a riding stable setting up Equine Assisted Therapy (or E.A.T.), and I wanted to learn more.
Equine Assisted Therapy builds on this instinctive, natural affinity with horses and donkeys, transforming it into a specific form of therapy. It can be helpful for people experiencing all different issues, physical and mental alike. When I first heard the term, I assumed it would be all about riding. But in many cases, there’s no actual riding involved. It’s more about time spent with horses or donkeys, the opportunity to interact with them, to tune in, connect and share. Maybe the key is in the word “Assisted”. This is therapy – led by a therapist working together with an equine expert – where a horse or donkey plays its part. Like many other forms of therapy, it began in the USA, but came to the UK some years ago and is gradually growing here too.
For many people, time set aside to be with animals is calming and refreshing partly because they are non-judgemental. They don’t communicate verbally, which may help not only people with speech or hearing issues but also people traumatised by arguments, by hostile speech, taunts or insults. What makes horses stand out in particular is their empathy, their sensitivity to human mood and emotion. This is integral to Equine Assisted Therapy – throughout, interaction with the horse or donkey may become a way to think differently or change perspective.
I recently re-read “Down Among The Donkeys”, Elisabeth Svendsen’s memoir of setting up The Donkey Sanctuary and then its Slade Centre for disabled children. The impact these donkeys could have echoed their role in Equine Assisted Therapy, although E.A.T is a distinct and specific therapy all its own.
I’ve heard and seen how people’s experiences of therapy in general differ enormously. Therapy can be a real positive, but it can also seem a real hurdle in itself. For some people, it is too great a hurdle even to try. I for one would be wary of organised, structured therapy. I like to feel free, independent. But obviously sometimes overcoming these kind of doubts could open up new possibilities and make a real difference. I wonder if Equine Assisted Therapy could be particularly attractive to people who might steer clear of other forms of therapy? Even the outdoor, rural, more informal setting could be more relaxing and natural than a more clinical, indoor room might seem.
Would you like to try Equine Assisted Therapy? Maybe you have done so already, or know someone who has. Do share any thoughts in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002
One thought on “Stable Sense”
I haven’t been around horses that often, and the last time I was, it was a one year old Paint. He ate a carrot from my hand and I was terrified he would take my fingers with the carrot. But instead he smiled and attempted to kiss my hand. I was so charmed by him, my heart melted..