Horses become a new breed of therapists



    Horses are extremely honest and do not have the capacity to lie, said Greg Kersten, owner of Equine Services in Utah.

    Equine Assisted Therapy is a growing field in which horses are becoming a new method for treating emotional disorders and overcoming fears, said Lynn Thomas, a licensed clinical social worker.

    “Horses are powerful animals and are good for treating emotional disorders because of their huge intimidating size.” Kersten said.

    In the EAP resource handbook it says that horses require work and in an era when immediate gratification and the “easy way” are norm, horses require people to be engaged in physical and mental work to be successful.

    Psychotherapists and horse trainers from around the country participated in the first annual conference for EAP, hosted by Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, in Provo March 2-4.

    This conference focused on teaching new techniques that can be incorporated into programs around the country, Kersten said.

    He said that horses create an opportunity for some people to overcome fear and to gain confidence in solving problems, have an awareness of their weaknesses and develop new skills in handling future problems.

    “Our focus with EAP is to assist people in coping with difficulties and in solving their own problems instead of us curing them,” he said.

    “When other methods have not worked on problems of self-esteem, drug or alcohol involvement and brushes with the law, we are trying this as a new treatment,” he said.

    Many troubled teenagers are not very verbal and do not do well in traditional verbal therapy, said Mary Kathleen Cadwalder, a psychotherapist from Houston, Texas.

    “My husband and I want to take kids that are out of control and can’t control their anger and try to get them to have self control, patience and self-esteem. I think that this program will do just that,” she said.

    Many teenagers that go to EAP are very angry and anger is so hard to help. But when working with horses, they find out that a bad attitude does not cut it, said Graciela Meyers, BYU deptartment of dance instructor who is also EAP certified.

    “A horse will not automatically submit to you if you are angry. They will stand up to you,” Kersten said.

    If the horse is approached with respect, he will respond. This teaches the children respect, Meyers said.

    “This type of therapy also gives people that have been rejected by society an opportunity to change and a chance to better themselves,” Meyer said.

    “Horses do not know what prejudice is. They will give immediate feedback to anyone, this reinforces good and stable behavior,” said Dennis Schieffer, 52, owner of Valley Oaks Ranch from Temecula, Calif. and EAP certified.

    “In my program, I have noticed a big difference between traditional therapy compared to this active therapy. Kids will now look you in the eye when they talk to you, before they never would,” he said.

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