Horses In Mental Health & Learning

 © Camilla Mowbray

The sound of galloping hooves thunder through our dreams….

Reminding us that we have a long, rich, and complex relationship with these powerful beings. Throughout time humans have recognized the power of horses, viewing them as spirit guides, messengers of the Divine, and the terrifying tools of death and destruction.

As far back as 400 bce (and likely before) people believed horses had the power to heal the human body, mind, and spirit. Hippocrates believed horseback riding was a universal language with a healing rhythm, and physicians prescribed riding to address mental, physical, and emotional issues. Since the 18th century research has been conducted in an attempt to better understand the foundations of this belief.

Today, horses are included in many different kinds of services aimed at bettering human life. From helping people learn to walk and talk again to supporting the journey of self-growth, healing, and change, horses have journeyed next to us, leading us on adventures of the heart.

Leif focuses her work in the areas of mental health and learning.

Including Horses in Mental Health

Licensed or registered mental health professionals (counselors, psychotherapists, social workers, or other professionals allowed by law to include mental health treatment as a part of their scope of practice) include horses and the farm milieu as a speciality area of practice, and obtain additional training, education, and supervision to provide this treatment specialization. The terms “equine-assisted mental health”, “equine-assisted psychotherapy”, “equine-facilitated psychotherapy”, and “equine-assisted counseling” are commonly used synonymously to describe the inclusion of horses in mental health.

What is Equine-Assisted Learning?

Equine-assisted learning (EAL) is a term that broadly refers to non-therapy, skills-based services that focus on teaching life, social, communication, relationship, or leadership skills while facilitating personal growth and increased self-awareness through both mounted and non-mounted interactions with horses. Services are provided by educators, riding instructors, or life/professional development coaches. The terms “equine-facilitated learning”, “equine-facilitated experiential learning”, “equine experiential education”, “equine-guided education”, and “equine-assisted coaching” are all used synonymously.

Leif’s Approach

At the foundation of Leif’s approach to including horses in mental health and learning is co-creating respectful relationships with equines and the natural world. For Leif, this starts by fostering a deep understanding of horses — both as individuals and as a species. Leif believes that if humans can learn to observe, listen, and respectfully interact with horses they will know how to carry this forward – to their relationships with self, others, and the natural world.

Relationships are what come first for Leif. It is her belief that within healthy, loving, supportive relationships we are able to be fully seen — to stretch and grow and increase our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. In working with horses we learn what it takes to be safe, steadfast, reliable, kind, and compassionate human beings.

Leif melds together two decades of research, study, and practice in the areas of mindfulness, nature awareness, depth and humanistic psychology, and experiential therapy and learning with 40+ years of lived experience with equines to create an intentional, ethical, respectful, and compassionate approach equine-assisted mental health and equine-assisted learning.

Let’s journey together!

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