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Horses Teaching Humans

Equine Therapy – not Psychotherapy

There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of man!” Winston Churchill

HTH focuses on:

increased self-awareness – emotional and physical, self-confidence, reducing anxiety, effective, non-verbal communication, empathy, trust, respect, honesty, assertive v aggression, energy levels, boundary setting, observation skills, mindfulness, stress responses, behaviour regulation, problem solving skills, patience, empathy, reframing/shifting perspective, identifying personal strengths, developing life skills toolbox, educating parents and others on benefits.


The following is from research paper on Equine Assisted Therapies - Frewin, K & Gardiner, B (2005). New age or old sage? A review of equine assisted psychotherapy.  In the Australian Journal of Counselling Psychology, 6, pp13-17.  EAP (Equine Assisted Psychotherapy).

“Humans and Horses

The horse evokes some form of emotion in all of us.  In Western cultures, the almost tangible yearning of prepubescent girls for a horse or pony companion is undeniable.  The thundering of hooves as galloping horses race for a finish line can bring whole nations to a standstill. The gentle, enquiring tickle of a nostril can produce the hint of a smile in the most disabled child.  Jones (1983) suggests that the horse is a symbol of “human spirit and freedom” (p.91).

Horses and Therapy

Horse-human encounters provide opportunities for learning about relationship. It is through mutual trust and respect that a horse and a human engage in a productive relationship.

Horses are not judgemental; they don’t have expectations or prejudices. They don’t care what you look like; are not influenced by your station in life; are blissfully unaware of whether you have friends or not. High qualifications do not impact upon the response of the horse to your presence. (O’Connor, n.d.; Vidrine, Owen Smith & Faulkner, 2002).



The horse responds to the immediacy of your intent and your behaviour and does so without assumption or criticism.  Engagement on such a level can be extraordinarily powerful for many people.

For example, McCormick and McCormick (1997) have found that the hostile and defiant street smarts of adolescent gang youth erode quickly in the presence of an assumed adversary (the horse) that the youth is unequipped to control or overthrow.  Such adolescents are invariably shocked as they begin to understand that openness and vulnerability are more likely to elicit positive behaviour from the horse than displays of defiance and aggression.

Horses are generally much bigger and stronger than people. Their size demands respect and can be intimidating for some people. Safety around these large animals requires some level of attentiveness. In other words, clients become immediately more watchful around horses, even if feigning indifference.  This size differential creates a social opportunity to overcome fear. Confidence and self-esteem are greatly increased through the accomplishment of a competently handled horse-oriented task. (Kersten and Thomas, 2003; Kohanov, 2001; Levinson, 2004; McCormick & McCormick, 1997; O’Connor, n.d.)

….horse’s inherent characteristics and non-verbal language create an atmosphere for clients to explore their psychological process in themselves and others, stay in the state of mindfulness, gain insights and identify metaphors and analogies. Participant’s experiences relate to Erickson’s (2011) exploration of intuition, telepathy and interspecies communication. Erickson defined intuition as “knowing something without knowing how one knows”.  In other words, intuition is largely unconscious.”

Table 4: Therapeutic Factors from Horses in EAP (Equine assisted psychotherapy).

Main Themes

1.     Horses actively use non-verbal language to communicate with therapists and clients.



Page 3

Sub Themes: 1.1 Horses remind therapists/clients when to step back

1.2 Horses confront clients to be authentic

1.3 Horses reflect clients’ inner world

1.4 Horses deeply connect with clients

2.     Horses are naturally therapeutic by being themselves

2.1  Similar characteristics across different horses

2.1.1     Horses are playful

2.1.2     Horses are big

2.1.3     Horses respond to clients in the present

2.1.4     Horses are calm

2.1.5     Horses help clients stay in a state of mindfulness

2.1.6     Horses’ physical presence can be comforting.


2.2  Different characteristics across different horses.

2.2.1     Horses have different personalities

2.2.2     Horses represent different issues

2.2.3     Horses have different stories


3.      Clients actively engage with horses

3.1  Clients find metaphors

3.2  Clients project their thoughts or feelings onto horses

3.3  Clients develop empathy towards horses”