What is Equine Assisted Learning

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE in Equine Assisted Methods©
by Pam Salem, B.S. Education
Trained in a variety of Equine Assisted methods

Horses do the work of teaching and healing through a variety of equine assisted applications which include education (both classroom and experiential), youth at risk programs, alcohol & drug recovery programs, holistic health programs, mental health counseling, coaching, and workplace training. Individuals with a variety of training and experience enter the field of teaching and healing with horses including mental health counselors, educators, holistic health practitioners, coaches, organizational development professionals, workplace trainers, as well as professional horse people.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE between the ways of partnering with horses teaching and healing people?  The focus of horses teaching and healing is not riding or horsemanship although horse care is sometimes a part of the activities.

aka Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning (EFEL)
or Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL)

Equine Assisted Learning (EAL), Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning (EFEL) or Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) refer to activities done with horses geared toward experiential learning. Equine assisted learning or equine facilitated experiential learning activities are typically offered to groups. The difference between equine assisted learning and equine assisted therapy is one of the confusing concepts in the emerging field of equine assisted work.

Learning activities can be used to reengage students in academic learning as well as with high risk adolescents in alternative school programs. Typically, the clients participate in an activity with the horses on the ground, and the trained facilitator guides the learning process. Rather than focusing on personal issues, the focus is on concepts and principles, as in character concepts for example.

The equine assisted activities may be offered to companies or corporations as part of their leadership and team training processes. Organizational development professionals deliver these programs to executives and teams within companies and corporations using instructional design and training principles. Typically, the clients participate in an activity on the ground with the horses and then examine the patterns that emerge from the responses of the horses in the interaction, giving the client kinesthetic learning. How individuals approach the activity carries back to the workplace in new awareness of, and change in, productive behaviors that enhance the bottom line.

Interaction with the horses is offered in the personal development field to expand the client’s awareness of patterns that may be limiting growth in relationships and career. While it is similar to workplace training, it is usually focused on the individual and the goals that are chosen. It comes under the equine assisted learning umbrella and is facilitated by certified coaches, riding instructors, holistic health practitioners as well as organizational development professionals .

In Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP), horses partner with humans to facilitate emotional healing in the context of psychotherapy. The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) defines Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) as a collaborative effort between a licensed therapist and a horse professional designed to address specific treatment issues presented by a psychotherapy client. Participants learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with the horses, and then processing (or discussing) feelings, behaviors, and patterns. Issues vary with each individual or family, but can include uncovering and managing emotions such as anger, anxiety, sadness or grief. Issues related to self-esteem, assertiveness, control, trust, communication, boundaries, separation, perfectionism, decision-making, leadership, cooperation or other social issues are often among those that surface. Because of its intensity and effectiveness, it may be considered a short term, or “brief” approach to psychotherapy. In order for it to be considered “psychotherapy” a licensed mental health professional needs to be involved. For those who follow the EAGALA model, 100% of EAP takes place purely on the ground.

Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) is another term for horses healing in psychotherapy and is defined by PATH (the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.), formerly NARHA/EFMHA) as a form of experiential psychotherapy that includes equine(s). It may include, but is not limited to, a number of mutually beneficial equine activities such as handling, grooming, longeing, riding, driving, and vaulting.  Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy is a treatment approach within the classification of Equine Assisted Therapy that provides the client with opportunities to enhance self-awareness and re-pattern maladaptive behaviors, feelings and attitudes. EFP is provided by a licensed, credentialed mental health professional working with an appropriately credentialed equine professional. EFP may also be delivered by a mental health professional who is dually credentialed as an equine professional.

Loosely organized as a recreational riding experience for the physically and mentally disabled which began at the Cheff Center in Augusta, Michigan, therapeutic riding has a national association founded in 1969, as the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA). In 2011 NARHA changed its name to Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) name to incorporate the emerging field of learning and mental health applications with horses. PATH Intl has hundreds of approved centers across the world devoted to providing safe standards of riding experiences for the physically and mentally disabled, including an equestrian Special Olympics for these riders. Therapeutic riding programs provide a riding experience designed to accommodate whatever level the client can accomplish.

An outgrowth of generic “therapeutic riding,” Hippotherapy literally means “treatment with the help of the horse” from the Greek word, “hippos” meaning horse. This approach is provided by a specially trained physical therapist, physical therapy assistant, occupational therapist, certified occupational therapy assistant or speech and language pathologist. In Hippotherapy, the horse influences the client rather than the client controlling the horse. The client is positioned on the horse and actively responds to the horse’s movement. The therapist directs the movement of the horse, analyzes the client s responses, and adjusts the treatment accordingly. This strategy is typically used as part of an integrated treatment program to achieve specific improvements in functional outcomes.

An affiliate partner of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.), the American Hippotherapy Association Inc. (AHA Inc) promotes the use of the movement of the horse as a treatment strategy in physical, occupational and speech therapy sessions for people living with disabilities. Hippotherapy has been shown to improve muscle tone, balance, posture, coordination, and motor development, as well as emotional well-being.

In general terms, animal assisted programs may include all kinds of animals from dogs, cats, birds, pot bellied pigs, and horses to the dolphin. These programs range from residential facilities having simple animal care to teach responsibility and provide bonding opportunities, to more specific and complex work with diagnoses such as autism and eating disorders. These programs exist in all sorts of settings. For example, all manner of animals are used to visit nursing homes, including miniature horses. Prison programs are rehabilitating dogs and horses while also rehabilitating humans by teaching them to connect with the animals and performing a positive service to society.
Animal Assisted programs range from activities geared toward enhancing the person’s relationship with their environment to specific therapy goals. To differentiate between Animal Assisted Activities [AAA] and Animal Assisted Therapy [AAT] the Delta Society (an organization formed to facilitate the quality of the relationship between pet owners, pets and caregivers) has terminology defined in its Standards of Practice in Animal-Assisted Activities and Therapy which may be found at their website http://www.deltasociety.org/TextOnly/AnimalsAAAAbout.htm. The primary difference has to do with the credentialing of the professional providing the service. For example, someone practicing Animal Assisted Therapy is typically credentialed in their field of therapy, such as physical therapy or psychotherapy. Animal Assisted Activities, while they may certainly be therapeutic, are not considered therapy. This information is designed to help you understand the field, the educational and vocational requirements for working in the field, and the current standard terminology used, i.e. it is no longer current to use the term ‘pet therapy.’

Copyright 2011 Pam Salem
This article may be reprinted in its entirety, with copyright, for educational purposes only.

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