Understanding Equine Therapy

One of the most common questions I get about equine therapy is “how does equine therapy work?” This question can be answered in so many different capacities based on what the professional is trained in. So I want to give a little bit of information about the different types of equine therapy and then share a little about how equine therapy works at Pathways to Connection here in Morrison, CO.

Different Types of Equine Therapy


Purpose: Provide services to clients who struggle with processing, mental and physical disabilities, emotional disabilities, and neural dysfunction. They hope to help clients develop experiences and skills to help clients with physical and emotional improvement in the beginning.

Goal: Allow clients to experience fine motor movements and develop motor skills by riding on a horses back. They also bring in the emotional component and hope to all clients to experience emotional regulation.

Professional: No level of schooling is required. It is required that the professional hold a certificate in therapeutic riding.

Equine Facilitated Learning and Activities

Purpose: Provide services to individuals and groups and sometimes families. Clients mostly need help with minor mental health struggles like emotional awareness, cognitive processing, and coping. They hope to develop skills that help clients in the future.

Goal: Allow clients to focus of healthy decision making and problem solving, creative and critical thinking, self-awareness and empathy, communication and interpersonal skills, and coping with emotions and stress. Activities can include the focus on the frequent, rhythmic, low-amplitude movement of horses to help individuals achieve specific physical, cognitive, social and emotional goals.

Professional: No level of schooling is required. It is highly recommended (or required depending on state) to have a certificate in equine assisted learning.

Equine Assisted Coaching

Purpose: Provide services to individuals who are seeking personal or professional development. Clients are often time focusing on future growth and development.

Goal: Allow clients to develop in a social, economic, biological, and career focused way so they can experience their full potential in whatever desired area they are seeking coaching in.

Professional: No level of schooling is required, but there is a certificate program that is needed to become a coach. It is highly recommended (or required depending on state) to have a certificate in equine assisted learning.

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

Purpose: Provide services to clients who struggle with mental health. Clients can range from struggling with emotional awareness to severe childhood trauma..

Goal: Allow clients to restore their mental health and begin to shift their stories. We want to allow people to come back to an authentic way of being through experiences with the horses that are relational and connected. We focus on past, present and future to creating healing in a whole way.

Professional: Masters required in counseling or social work. It is highly recommending (or required depending on state) to have a certificate in equine assisted psychotherapy.

How Pathways to Connection Works Within Equine Therapy

Each of the therapists that are trained in equine therapy at Pathways to Connection have gone through (or are currently going through) the Gestalt Equine Institute of the Rockies. The training program goes through attachment, somatic, family systems, Gestalt theory, and integration with horses.

We hold to the practice that the primary goal within equine therapy is to help the client have an experience and build a relationship with horses in order to help them work through the faulty belief systems they have created due to messaging from culture, family of origin, traumas, society, and other relational experiences they have had throughout their lifetime. We want to restore and renew that authentic sense of self that we are so desperately wanting.

But “how?” you ask. Here are just a couple of ways (there are many more we could include).

Nervous System Regulation:

Horses have incredibly similar nervous systems as human. They have many of the same responses in regards to fight, flight, freeze, appease, shut down, etc. Bringing our nervous system in and watching how we can regulate and how horses regulate allows us to resource in a way to help regulate the possible upheaval in our nervous system. Horses allow physical contact which can help regulate a nervous system which then can allow for clients to process at a deeper and more connected level.

Relationship and Connection:

Many times relational patterns will follow us from relationship to relationship. With horses it is easier to pick up on these patterns because we often times don’t worry about the judgement from the horse because we know they don’t complex think like a human.

Watching New Ways of Being:

Horses have a great ability to teach us to be present. In a society and culture that teaches us to go-go-go. Horses can teach us how to “be” (rather than do), a language many of us are unfamiliar with. This can help us with managing and regulating our anxiety and our depression. Horses through relationship on both the ground and riding can allow us to connect in ways that we are taught are threatening to our nervous system. Allowing us to access a new pattern we can connect to in outside relationships.

Aligning with Emotions:

Horses can help us become more aware of emotions and feelings that we are not aware we are experiencing. Horses can help us align with intuitive process and instinctual process so that we can begin to understand how we experience and show up in the world both emotionally, somatically, and cognitively.

Attachment Work:

Horses attach in very similar ways that we do. Horses just don’t have the cognitive capacity to say why, they respond from a very intuitive, authentic, and instinctual place. Learning to follow our intuition and authentic self allows us the opportunity to attach in a secure way. We look at the ability to attach in a safe and connected manner as well as how we can detach in the same safe and connected manner to help clients find a sense of safety within self within relationships.

Equine therapy is an experiential therapy, one that can only be described through experience. So putting words to how equine therapy works can be very difficult because depending on what you are bringing in that you want to heal from will depend on what your experience is within equine therapy. Most of the time, the work we do is from the ground and around building and establishing relationship. Sometimes the work we do requires us to get on the horses back and partner with them in a different way. Experience is the key principle to equine therapy, and with that my invitation to you is to find a professional based on your needs and desires to experience the power of what equine therapy has to offer. Contact us today to set up a free consultation with one of our equine therapists.

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