Equestrian Centre teaches life skills
- Submitted | July 08, 2014
The past year at the One Arrow Equestrian Centre has seen a few changes in programming and staff but one thing has remained consistent. The horses are the main teachers and we are often asked, why?
Over the past four years, the horses have never failed to surprise and amaze us. To help explain this, we will refer to a program narrative that we implement into our classes and workshops: "Running with Mustangs" by Valerie Krall & Lisa Sapier with Graham Hackett, Shannon Knapp & Richard Knapp.
For both Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP), a session or class generally consists of a horse-involved task or series of tasks intended for the client to complete without the extensive guidance from the facilitators or treatment team. Because horses are very perceptive and responsive, the successful execution of life skills such as assertiveness, problem solving, and clear communication is imperative for the successful completion of the task. Because horses are large, sometimes intimidating, and often unfamiliar animals, they capture the attention of clients, and force them to discard unhealthy coping skills such as aggression and manipulation. Clients quickly learn that horses act according to the human that stands before them, caring nothing of gang status, clinical diagnoses, or court referrals.
Allowing clients to learn about and experience horse behavior is a logical way to help them learn about how behaviors of all kinds are learned, reinforced, and maintained. The principles of behavior therapy are constantly at play with horses. Horses are behavior-oriented, skill-based, reinforcement-driven animals. EAL & EAP places participants in a real-life context in which they can learn about cause and effect relationships, reinforcement, and ways that they can affect change. Additionally, horses are strongly driven by safety-focused instincts. As prey animals, they constantly make decisions and behave according to what they perceive as "safe." Thus, they will only respond to a participants attempted use of a new skill if it is performed in an assertive, non-aggressive, and consistent manner. One of the most unique aspects of EAL or EAP is that horses offer immediate feedback and reactions to behaviors presented to them. Participants who impulsively jump into a situation without thinking of possible consequences will likely see some immediate effect displayed by the horse. Throughout the course of the session and classes, patterns will emerge and become apparent. This provides a vivid way in which youth can learn about their own behavioral patterns with multiple opportunities for staff to inquire about accompanying thought processes. Staff can reflect these themes back to the client, and can also directly or subtly model alternative approaches. Youth begin to see patterns in the way they approach activities, engage in self-talk, and problem solve. The novel circumstance of working with horses typically keeps the youth motivated to persist, whereas learning about these patterns in an office type setting might not be as stimulating for them.
These lessons among many others are incorporated into various workshops such as the "Empower Me" Workshops targeting youth preparing to enter the work force, and Inspire Me rejuvenation workshops that focuses on leaders & employees.
The summer camps offered at the Equine Centre also expose the youth to these teachings as well as tons of creative fun.