The Healing Power of Horses in Equine Assisted Therapy
Just yesterday, I was doing equine therapy with the family program here at The Arbor, and the family members that come in for the family program have a chance to come to the barn, stand next to the horse and do the bonding session to just get in touch with what’s going on inside of them so that they can be more authentic when they speak to their loved ones. And, you know, most of these family members know real well what they think their loved one needs to hear, but a lot of them don’t know what’s going on inside themselves is really what they need to share.
So, this woman came up and she was concerned and worried about her older son – 40-year-old son who’s still in a lot of trouble – and she said she just can’t get it out of her mind and she spends so much time thinking about it and worrying about it and so-forth and so-on. And she’s an Al-Anon, so she goes to meetings. So, she’s standing next to the horse and the horse won’t have anything to do with her. I mean the horse is just eh, and the woman is just kind of dismayed because she’s a real personable person and outgoing and she doesn’t understand why this horse isn’t gonna connect. So, I said to her, I said, “So, what are you feeling right now?” And she said, “I’m feeling frustrated.” I said, “Okay. Good.” I said, “So, what is it you don’t want to feel?” She says, “Well, I don’t want to feel my anger, but I’m angry.” She says, “I don’t want to feel sad, but I’m sad.” She says, “I don’t know what I want to feel.”
And so I kept inquiring and digging and seeing if I could get her to identify what it was that she didn’t want to let up, and finally I said to her, I said, “Well, you’re an Al-Anon. Aren’t you?” And she says, “Yes.” I said, “So, are you working the steps?” And she said, “Yes.” And I said, “So, what’s the first step?” And she, “Well, we admit we’re entirely powerless over alcohol and our lives were unmanageable.” And I say, “Right. So, what is it you don’t want to feel?” [Laughter] And she wasn’t getting it. And I said, “Could it possibly be powerless?” Awe, her eyes got as big as saucers. The horse came in and slammed up into her chest and she had her because that’s what she didn’t want to feel. She didn’t want to feel powerless that she couldn’t do anything for her son. As long as she could maintain some kind of an idea that she had some power, then she felt like she had some control. So, that opportunity for her to really take a good first step and have it validated immediately by the horse was a very powerful experience for her.
I was working one day with another family program member, and he was there for his step-daughter who had an alcohol problem. And he’s standing next to the horse, Dozer the _____. Oh boy, Dozer doesn’t give it up for anybody. So, he’s standing next to Dozer and he’s explaining how he’s there for his daughter and he has to make sure it works for her. He says, “Everything depends on this working for her.” And I said, “Why is that?” And he said, “Well, you know, 16 years ago, my brother died of alcoholism and I couldn’t help him.” And I said, “Ah, okay. So, you must be sad about that.” And he goes, “Yeah.” He says, “I had to make sure it works for my daughter this time.” And he’s starting to tear up. You know, he’s really, really sad about the loss of his brother. And the horse wouldn’t connect. I mean the tears were real, so in my mind it seemed pretty authentic. But the horse wasn’t coming in. I’m taking my cues from the horse. That tells me there’s more there. So, finally, I kind of had a little brainstorm. I said, “Do you feel guilty for your brother’s death because you couldn’t help him?” He said, “Oh yeah.” And I said, “Well, Mr. Smith, is it possible that that guilt keeps you attached to your brother; you don’t have to let him go as long as you feel guilty?” And he looked at me and he goes, “Oh, oh yeah, and now I’ll feel guilty if she doesn’t make it, too.” He says, “Yeah.” “Is it possible that you’ve never really let go of your brother; that you’ve never really grieved the loss of your brother?” And then the flood gates opened and old Dozer came right in.
If you have a substance abuse problem or you have a loved one that has a substance abuse problem and you’re looking for a residential treatment for yourself or your loved one, I’d love to meet you in the barn with my horses and give you an opportunity to see what they have to say about you.
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Articles written under this user name are written by various staff members and outside writers with an expertise in addiction, mental health, or other topics closely related to the substance abuse treatment field. We strive to provide well-written, high quality content that informs and educates.