My work centers horses as a guide to profound re-connection to the sensory-filled “natural” world, which opens us up to deeper awareness of our inner life in all dimensions. I continue to see how profound the insights offered to us by horses are — when we see their choice as informed by their social emotional awareness that their ancestral herd life necessitated.
Animal-assisted therapies have been around since the 9th century in Belgium, where animals were used for people with physical disabilities (Bustad & Hines, 1984) and have now been defined as “a goal-directed intervention in which an animal that meets specific criteria is an integral part” (“Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) Overview”).
My perspective specifically draw a connection between equine assisted learning and ecopsychology, where embedded realizations about animals and what they represent to and about us humans take precedence over the animals being used for an immediate fix. This is especially powerful in equine assisted learning, as horses are archetypically representative of a profound strength in connection, community (herd) and empathy, but were oppressed by a conquest mentality that superimposed a militant and dominating agenda on the horse in the name of power and control (Kohanov, 2001).
Ecopsychology denies the dichotomy that we are separate in our wellness from the world around it. It necessitates an evaluation of the relationship between a person and his or her surroundings, including the planet and the diversity of life forms found within.
Interactions with animals are a way to address that therapeutic sphere. My academic work has analyzed the possibility of integrating equine assisted therapies with ecopsychology, especially in regards to Roszak’s principles of ecopsychology (2001). I believe that this combination is beneficial to both groups, and that an ecopsychological model, firstly, provides an experience more ethical to the horse in the implications of acknowledging their presence as a being, not a tool, and secondly, offers a deeper healing for the human: reaching past addressing mere symptoms and into demanding a reassessment of the values and assumptions held about self, other, and object.
I work both 1:1 with people and the horses in their lives to deepen their awareness of the ways they are showing up with their horse, as well as offering group workshops at equine facilities.
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