First, the client is greeted and shown around the facility. This promotes a sense of safety. By greeting and petting some of the auxiliary team members (goats, cats, chickens) the instructor can start building a relationship with the client. The client can share information with a softened lens; sharing is controlled by the client, and she is able to defer focus as needed to the animals. This allows the client to ease into the experience while the instructor assesses needs and strengths.
Upon entry into the indoor arena, the client is introduced to the horse. Time is spent petting and greeting the horse. This demonstrates basic relationship-building skills; learning the name, allowing the horse to sniff the hand, possibly petting the horse gently. As the client becomes more comfortable, the instructor teaches safety and horse handling skills before beginning the activity.
In this session, the first activity will have the client lead the horse through an obstacle course. The client must plan a safe route through the balls, pylons and tarps that will fit both the client and the horse. As they progress through the course, the client is encouraged to read the horse’s feedback. Does the horse refuse to move? Are the ears facing forward? What is the horse saying? The client is asked to interpret the horse’s actions. The feedback will be different for every client; there is no right answer. Examples of skill focus in this exercise: relationship building, sequencing, confidence building, understanding the importance of encouragement and engagement, staying in the moment, leadership, team-building.
Other activities are added to the session based on individual need and goals.
The session is wrapped up by a visit to the Word Wall, where the client is encouraged to pick a word to describe their experience. This encourages debriefing of the tasks and learning that has occurred. The horse is lead into a stall or paddock and the client is offered visits with any of the auxiliary animals to say goodbye. The session is ended.
Equine Assisted Learning offers safe and engaging support for those who have experienced trauma. Through guided exercises and activities, clients learn skills and ideas that may have been damaged by challenging experiences like domestic violence, work related trauma and other exceptional life events.
Trauma can impact the way that our brains work, often causing challenges communicating needs and having intrusive, distracting thoughts. The symptoms are impactful to daily life.
Horses ask us for clear, calm instruction. They require patience, engagement and kindness. Working with horse will challenge clients to stay in the moment and regulate their emotions. By acting as the leader of the horse, the client takes an active role in accomplishing tasks; building confidence and skills as they succeed. The horse provides, instant, clear feedback to positive and negative stimuli while maintaining a non-judgemental attitude. The horse forgives.