I just read an article titled “Horses that Heal”, I was amazed at what I learned and I thought I would share some of it with you this week.
It was an interview with actress Jennifer O’Neil who has started an equine assisted program for traumatized adults. Since 2010 she and other volunteers have operated her farm as a healing place for PTSD victims outside of Nashville, Tennessee. The farm has served more than 4000 veterans and first responders since it opened. They have 10-12 animals, some rescue, some donated and some bred.
Equine Assisted Therapy
The farm works with veterans who have trouble reintegrating with civilian life. Just like DeAnna’s rescue farm in Glendale, it is not a riding program. Interacting with horses teaches communication and trust. Jennifer O’neil explains the program like this:
“Horses are flight animals. A dog will naturally wag its tail and come up to you, but a horse assesses everything that’s going on. A horse has 17 facial expressions and she teaches veterans to recognize them and understand what the horse is “saying”. You have to be very present when you’re dealing with a 1500 pound horse. You can’t be gazing off; you have to be aware. The relationship that is developed between a person or family and the horse shores up their confidence and the need to communicate and be present. When you bond with a horse, there is something that supersedes the fear, pain and insecurity you might be carrying around. When the horse turns around and “hooks on”, as it is called, and comes to you with nothing but trust, you have developed a relationship with that horse where it “says” – “OK, we can be friends”.
DeAnna Wahlheim at Family Christian Counseling Center practices equine assisted therapy using the EAGALA model. The Eagala Model is effective because “it practices the science that humans learn best by doing. The model uses a hands-on approach where clients are given the space to project and analyze their situations, make connections, and find their own solutions. Since the solutions are personally experienced in conjunction with intellectual understanding, they tend to be deeper, more profound, and longer lasting.”
The Eagala Model is a team approach that includes a licensed, credentialed Mental Health Professional, a qualified Equine Specialist, and horses working together with the client in an arena at all times.
When with the horse, all the work is done on the ground with the horses front and center, deliberately unhindered and never ridden, and allowed to interact with the client as they wish. This creates the space for the client to reflect, project, and make deep connections.