Does Equine Assisted Therapy Really Help Those Who Struggle with Eating Disorders

Well of course my bias is a resounding Absolutely!   Yet, it is difficult to specifically describe the “How” it really works.   Providing examples of the therapeutic activities that we use in our sessions would probably sell the process short as well.   Yet, I can say that almost anyone who has spent time with a horse and developed a relationship with them that evolved over a period of hours or years will tell you that it was a special experience.    We usually describe our sessions with our horses as Equine and Spirituality Therapy, because it is impossible to spend time with our Equine Crew without having a rewarding spiritual experience.

Giving baths and grooming are important components of relationship building with our Equine members.   Careful consideration to safety is given first and then the fun begins.    All of our team members enjoy the special time our clients spend with them and stand motionless with their heads lowered while they get their turn.   Drying in the sun they will nap and wait patiently for us to join them for the next part of our activity.   Smiles and gentleness are the hallmark of these sessions.   Lots of laughter is heard as we go about wetting the horses and each other as we “accidently” get splashed, but that is always a welcomed byproduct in the warm Florida sun.

We actually ride very little during our sessions since we have so many clients who struggle with diminished bone strength.    However, round pen work is a favorite of the clients and provides a great opportunity for empowerment work .   We provide a demonstration of how to use non-verbal communication to move, stop, and turn a horse within the round pen and then provide each client the possibility to participate if they choose.   To this day, all of our clients have chosen to be a part of this process and have been so surprised and uplifted after being able to communicate with their partner and be successful  in getting them to follow their cues.   I will have to say that after all these years of using this technique with horses I am still thrilled when these great animals listen and connect with us.   Feeling their nose and breath on my shoulder while I am turned away and waiting on them to approach continues to give me a chill and a smile.  But most importantly, it brings this same joy to our clients and a foundation for continued freedom from the eating disorder noise in their heads.  They often tell us that they do not struggle with eating disorder thoughts while they are with the horses.

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One of our memorable moments of Equine  Assisted Therapy is the evening that one of our clients was experiencing a full blown panic attack.   She asked if she could go out to one of our horses.   We of course made this possible and helped her to the paddock.  Our seasoned and patient horse Breaker was nearby so we chose to work with him.   He stood very quietly as our tremoring client put her  hands on his back and began to slow her breath to match his breath.   In a short while she was able to become calm and more able to ground herself.    Breaker became her ally in treatment and to this day we still hear from her on occasion about how much Breaker helped her regain the control she had forgotten that she had.

I will encourage each of you to find a stable in your area that you can go and visit.  A call ahead might by helpful, but don’t be discouraged if you do not get an answer.  Many times the barn manager is feeding or attending to the horses and don’t answer their calls.  But most barns welcome visitors and are open to letting you walk through and meet their horses.   Since barns sometimes have rules, I usually like to check in with their office if I have not been able to reach anyone for  an appointment,  introduce myself and ask permission to walk about.   I also try to let them know when I am leaving and see if they have any upcoming events that are open to attend.

Remember, I am warning you that it I hard to go away without having a “horse fever”.   This usually begins with a plan to go back to the barn before you leave and having found at least one horse that you really wish was yours.

Happy Trails

~Lynda A. Brogdon, Ph.D., C.E.A.P., C.E.D.S.