A few months ago I was at a wedding and ended up sitting next to two strangers at dinner. Naturally, the topic of conversation gravitated towards work. I thought I did a fairly good job explaining Equine Assisted Psychotherapy…the key is to keep it as simple as possible and go into more detail later.
“I provide therapy to people in partnership horses. Similar to animal assisted therapy.”
Understandably, they were curious. After asking what seems to be the mandatory question if you mention anything on the topic of horses (“Do you ride?”), they asked what degrees and training I have.
“I have my bachelors from ___, masters from ___, PATH certified as an ESMHL…So basically a mental health professional and an equine specialist.”
It was clear from their follow up questions they weren’t completely getting it, but I thought my responses gave them an adequate, if basic, understanding. After dinner was over and we said our goodbyes one of the men added, “Well, if I ever have a sick horse I know where to send them.”
I don’t know where I went wrong, but somewhere in that conversation that man decided I was either a veterinarian or that I give therapy to horses. This isn’t uncommon. I would venture to guess it’s actually a more common response here in New England. EAP is up and coming here, while in the West or South there’s an abundance of horse farms, comparatively, and EAP has been practiced for longer. At a local networking function in West Hartford a woman stated, “I thought I had to go to Utah for this!” Nope, we’re right here. With one location right in the city of Hartford. It doesn’t surprise me when I meet people and they haven’t heard of EAP. I hadn’t heard of it until a little over a year go either. To me that was just a dream, something that would mold my interests together perfectly but that wasn’t actually a possibility yet.
What does surprise me is when after explaining it, some people still don’t understand the basic principles. Maybe it’s hard for them to see the horse in a role other than as a tool for riding. Instead, horses in EAP are encouraged only to be themselves. Intuitive, reactionary, forgiving, and social. It’s through building a relationship with a horse that healing happens for the client. Horses do this for us willingly and building a good relationship is undoubtedly rewarding for the horse as well. So, yes, they can experience the therapeutic benefits, but they are primarily partners in therapy, not intended recipients.
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