Chinook Horses
Chinook Horses

How Does It Work?

Why do we work with horses?

Recent studies suggest that there may be more teachable moments found in the arena than in a therapist’s office or classroom. Horses are highly sensitive to body language, energy, and emotional state [1].  Horses are honest and respond to even the slightest changes in our attitude. Working with a horse, and seeing how our attitudes and emotions are reflected in their actions invites us to look inside ourselves and understand where we are emotionally [2]. When partnering with horses, clients experience communication without words. This teaches us how we might be impacting or influencing others in our lives, as well as how to effectively communicate with others. The presence of animals can help people achieve a sense of self-awareness while forming more supportive and inclusive human communities [1].

Horses are non-judgmental partners, creating a safe space for healing and an opportunity for good touch. Working with equines allows time to just be present and turn off alert/defense mechanisms [3].

At the same time, horses are powerful, intelligent animals and learning to work with can improve self-esteem and self-confidence. Completing activities with the horse teaches patience, confidence, and trust [1].

Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) and Equine-Facilitated Learning (EFL) are experiential treatment approach that provide the client with abundant opportunities to enhance self-awareness and re-pattern maladaptive behaviors, feelings, and attitudes while interacting with horses [3].

How does a session at Chinook Horses work?

Chinook Horses’ team tailors each session to meet the educational and therapeutic needs of each individual.

An EAGALA team is comprised of the four essential members: the client(s), a herd (2 to 4 horses), an EAGALA certified equine specialist, and a specialized professional. The team is adjusted to fit the clients need, but always includes the four members. Depending on the client, they may have an individual or group session, containing up to 6 people. The herd is carefully chosen to meet the client or group’s needs. Each horse at Chinook Horses has been selected with care and their job as a partner in healing and learning in mind. Equine specialists are present in every session for the safety of the client(s) and the horses. The fourth member of the team can vary depending on the needs of the client. There may be a mental health specialist, special education professional, occupational therapist, other specialized professional, or a combination of specialists included in the team.

When working with horses as partners, we use specific language that includes:

  • Ask not make
  • Invite not force
  • Regard not ignore
  • Teach not break
  • Respect not use
  • Assume responsibility not blame

What is Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy?

Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) is an experiential form of psychotherapy that involves equines. Horses can help in many areas including depression, trauma, anxiety, bereavement and loss, and conflict resolution. The team works together to address and achieve psychotherapy goals set by the mental health professional and the client.


What is Equine-Facilitated Learning?

Equine-Facilitated Learning (EFL) is an experiential learning technique that combines methods and promotes comprehension of material. Partnering with the horses asks us to stay focused, attentive, and present in our bodies to complete activities.

Credentialed practitioners develop content for the sessions to facilitate personal growth and develop life skills through equine partnerships. Sessions may include the use of the Zones of Regulation, created by Leah M. Kuypers, MA Ed. OTR/L. The Zones were created to support people with emotional self-regulation.

What is the EAGALA Model?

EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) is an international non-profit organization that sets the standard for EFP and EFL. These experiential treatment methods provide the client with opportunities to grow and learn about themselves while interacting with horses. EAGALA has four focuses: the team approach, focus on the ground, solution-oriented, and code of ethics. The team approach includes: the client(s), a herd, an equine specialist, and a specialized professional. The specialized professional varies depending on the needs of the client. They may be a special education professional, mental health practitioner, occupational therapist, or the team may consist of a variation of the three. All sessions focus on groundwork and no previous experience with horses is required. The sessions are solution-oriented, meaning clients have the opportunity to problem-solve and experientially find new ways of reaching their goals. EAGALA professionals follow the EAGALA code of ethics carefully to ensure the best outcome for the client.


What is PATH International?

PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship Internationa) is an organization that sets the safety standards for equine therapy. The PATH model focuses on therapeutic riding, hippotherapy, and strives to achieve goals in EFP and EFL through mounted activities.

[1] Case Western Reserve University. “How horses can teach humans communication skills, kindness.” ScienceDaily. 11 December 2013.
[2] Rothe, E.Q., Vega, B. J., Torres, R. M., Soler, S. M. C., & Pazos, R. M. M. (2005). From kids and horses: Equine facilitated psychotherapy for children. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 5, 373–383.
[3] Leslie McCullough, Ph.D., LCSW, Washburn University, Effect of Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy on Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms in Youth With History of Maltreatment and Abuse

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