2015 Blog Entries

AK Child & Family and Helping Hooves Ranch Alaska

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) will be offered to students in one of our residential cottages weekly for 8 weeks. EAP is experiential in nature, which means that participants learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with the horses, and then processing (or discussing) feelings, behaviors, and patterns. This approach has been compared to the ropes courses used by therapists, treatment facilities, and human development courses around the world. But EAP has the added advantage of utilizing horses; dynamic and powerful living beings. EAP is a powerful and effective therapeutic approach that has an incredible impact on individuals, youth, families, and groups. EAP addresses a variety of mental health and human development needs including behavioral issues, attention deficit disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, relationship problems and communication needs.

We are often asked, "Why horses? Why not other animals?"

Naturally intimidating to many, horses are large and powerful. This creates a natural opportunity for some to overcome fear and develop confidence. Working alongside a horse, in spite of those fears, creates confidence and provides wonderful insight when dealing with other intimidating and challenging situations in life.

Like humans, horses are social animals, with defined roles within their herds. They would rather be with their peers. They have distinct personalities, attitudes and moods; an approach that works with one horse won’t necessarily work with another. At times, they seem stubborn and defiant. They like to have fun. In other words, horses provide vast opportunities for metaphorical learning, an effective technique when working with even the most challenging individuals or groups.

Horses require us to work, whether in caring for them or working with them. In an era when immediate gratification and the "easy way" are the norm, horses require people to be engaged in physical and mental work to be successful, a valuable lesson in all aspects of life.

Most importantly, horses mirror human body language. Many complain, "This horse is stubborn. That horse doesn't like me," etc. The lesson is that if they change themselves, the horses respond differently. Horses are honest, which makes them especially powerful messengers.

These sessions will be provided by Dr. Bruce Smith, PhD; Laurie Linsley, MS, cottage Clinical Therapist; and Lynn Paterna, LPC. This program will provide students the unique opportunity to improve self awareness, express emotions, thoughts and feelings related to past trauma and offending behaviors, and identify cognitive behavioral sequences and patterns by participating in hands on activities with horses focusing on self awareness, affect identification, boundaries, attachment, honesty, relationships and self esteem.

Five students, ages 14 to 18, who are receiving treatment at the Jesse Lee Level 5 Sex Offender Residential Treatment Program for boys, will participate. A pre and post assessment will be completed to measure levels of change in the students. The program will be held at a local arena and 2 to 3 horses will be used in the program. Methods will be a combination of Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA), Certified Horsemanship Association, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Sex Offender Specific Treatment Concepts. Most activities will be done at ground level however toward the end of summer students will have an opportunity to ride the horses in a structured and organized lesson if they so desire. There will be a canopy / tent with chairs in a circle for students and facilitators to meet and process the activities of the day in privacy. A sack lunch will be provided for students to eat lunch while observing the horses in a herd environment. Dry erase boards and other props will be used to teach the theme / lesson of the day. This will be a group setting with the following format:
• Opening Circle - Group Ritual
• Introduction of themed activity of the day
• Check - In
• Group Activity to promote trust, cohesion, self-awareness
• Equine Assisted Activity
• Group Processing
• Journaling
• Closing Circle

Each week will be a different theme with all themes melding into the next week, building upon one another. Themes will be Mindfulness, Boundaries, Trust, Attachment, Honest Communication, Relationship Building, Self-Esteem, Accomplishment, and Saying Goodbye. Cooperative group activities will be related to each theme and will be performed outside the arena without horses. The Equine Assisted Activity will be related to the theme as well and will be a group or individual based activity with the horses. Metaphors will be used to promote understanding and learning. Processing will occur after or during an activity. Journaling will be done at the site with each student having their own journal to write in. One topic related to the theme will be offered for the journaling activity. Each student will bring their chair to a place outside the arena away from the others to journal. Students and facilitators will come back to the tent for a closing circle and will be asked to share one metaphor and how it relates to their life away from group.