My experience of Equine Therapy - A client's story
I would not normally share client stories for confidentiality reasons, but this client wanted to write a blog post to share their experience. Their hope was to help others understand that sessions might be like and perhaps encourage them to seek out the support that feels right for them. The sessions took place at Life on Dreams with Sarah Watson's herd and also at Pony Partnerships CIC with my herd. It is important to note the Equine Facilitated Therapy is not right for everyone, and it is about finding the therapeutic fit that feels right for you.
A friend posted about equine facilitated learning and psychotherapy on Facebook. This caught my interest as I have had a lifelong passion for horses and was receiving CBT therapy for anxiety and depression. I found that Danielle practiced locally, so was keen to find out more - despite being cautious not to be swayed due to my interest in horses - as I had realised that the CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) wasn’t working for me.
My initial consultation was room based, and I instantly felt that Danielle was on my wavelength. It was immediately obvious that she had a greater depth of knowledge and broader range of skills than I had previously experienced in therapy. I had resisted CBT because I was being told to change my way of thinking about a current situation, whereas I felt my reaction was perfectly valid. This had taken away what little self-belief remained and left me doubting my judgement: I didn’t know what to think any more.
In a positive way Danielle challenged me to explore my feelings and (importantly for me)
empowered me by asserting my right to feel the way I did, whilst acknowledging that we needed to explore the reasons why in more detail in order to begin the journey towards recovery. We agreed to try an equine session before deciding on the best therapy route; which turned out to be a mixture of work with the horses followed by a room based session to explore in more detail what had been learnt in the field.
My first equine session began with a body scan – something completely new to me – and I was amazed by how much I learnt from it about my physical and emotional state. At one point during the scan, whilst I was experiencing particularly strong emotions, one of the horses (Rio) whinnied loudly. He continued to play a major part later in the session when we got closer to the horses, acting in away I’m told was quite out of character, and I gained insights into how I view myself now and was reminded of the person I used to be from watching his interactions with Millie the donkey.
Weekly or fortnightly sessions followed; we did fascinating activities with the horses to explore topics such as boundaries, which translate into everyday life but are demonstrated so openly by the horses in ways that people don’t express. If they don’t feel comfortable they’ll walk away or turn their backs; this makes them great teachers about how we can change our own interactions to alter a situation and the importance of protecting ourselves by setting our own boundaries.
Instead of focussing purely on present feelings during sessions, Danielle used a variety of ways to look back, even as far as childhood, to delve deeper into understanding why I felt and reacted in the way I did. She used several tools to help explain my feelings and other people’s behaviour which have been of benefit to the way I view difficult situations.
We had a session with the horses, but I needed to work through some issues so we ended up mainly sitting talking in the field. I shed a lot of tears that day, but Danielle skilfully managed the session so that it ended on a note where I felt positive. Danielle’s powers of observation particularly struck me that day: she picks up on subtle mannerisms and body language to know when to delve deeper and uncover underlying issues that can be worked on (or sometimes just acknowledged and no longer bottled up).
Later that day I realised that there had been a breakthrough, and looking back I think it was a turning point: I knew that I had regained the inner strength to face my issues and the self-belief to find a way through.
A couple of room based sessions gave me more coping strategies to use and we worked on some of the things that had been holding me back. We had a session in the field where we put up a variety of obstacles to represent hang ups or hurdles to overcome in life and I had to choose a horse to accompany me on this journey through the obstacles. Amazingly, the horse chose me: Easta, who had previously decided not to interact with me, came forward and practically put her nose in the halter! What followed was a powerful, but positive experience; a journey of introspection and reflection that was hugely emotional, but Easta provided such support that I could look without fear.
I think I gained more inner strength that day and a greater acceptance of who I am.
I couldn’t arrange any sessions during August due to other commitments, but felt so much better that I coped ok. In September I booked a session because we hadn’t planned to end the therapy at our previous meeting and although I felt good I didn’t want to relapse. Danielle instantly noticed the change in me and we decided that regular visits were no longer required, but I should get in touch when I felt I needed to.
The tangled web of emotions and practical issues in life that had broken me earlier in the year had gradually been untangled. Some problems had been solved and others that remained were easier to deal with individually and I had better ways of coping with them. I recall Danielle giving me credit for the steps I had taken in achieving this, but I’m convinced that without her help I wouldn’t be at that stage now.
The following February
I haven’t yet needed another session, although it’s reassuring to know there is someone I can contact if I need to. Although I have had a few setbacks these have been relatively minor and I have dealt with them better than I could have before, which in turn has made me even stronger. I have a better self-image and a clearer vision about what is important to me. What’s also important is that whilst I can manage situations better I’m still the same person that I was – I don’t feel that I’ve had to compromise who I am (which I felt that CBT required me to do). I’m incredibly sensitive, and little things can affect me deeply, but I wouldn’t want to be any other way. Thankfully now I have been given the skills to deal with this positively and enjoy being me