More than 60 people from across the country gathered at the Camp Tyler Outdoor School recently for a three-day training about how to use horses in psychotherapy and other learning activities.
The training was the result of a partnership between Jacksonville-based Bent Anchor Ranch and EAGALA — Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association.
The training is one of two required for professionals to become EAGALA certified. Patti Mandrell and Jimmy Downes served as the EAGALA certified trainers.
Ms. Mandrell, a licensed professional counselor and equine specialist, said the training is designed to help "equip mental health professionals and equine specialists to partner together and incorporate horses into mental health counseling, as well as team building and equine-assisted learning activities."
This therapy model can be used for educational and learning purposes as well as mental health issues, such as addictions, eating disorders, marriage problems, learning disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder and more.
"Any type of issue you might work with in therapy can be incorporated into this model," Ms. Mandrell said. "It is a hands-on approach … where the client actually experiences something and they're experiencing interaction incorporating horses into that."
As prey animals, horses have to be able to read other animals and predators really well, Downes said. This comes in handy when working with humans.
"We use their innate ability to read people and they also mirror, so if our clients are anxious or nervous or angry, the horses may mirror that behavior or they may move away from it and that gives us information to transfer to my mental health professional to help them see their lives," Downes said.
Whereas in a traditional talk-therapy setting, the client will participate in a conversation with their therapist, in equine-assisted therapy, the client participates in an experience with a horse working through and completing various exercises with the horse.
"Our team instead of just hearing their words, we're able to see their actions and how they act in the arena, which helps them create metaphors to their real-life experience," Downes said.
Ms. Mandrell said that is the power of this type of psychotherapy because it focuses on the nonverbal, the client's actions rather than their words.
"So it really is giving the person an opportunity to go, ‘OK, what I'm wanting to do and what I am doing may be different and here's my opportunity to try something new and see how it works,'" she said. "Horses are very forgiving, very in the moment, immediate feedback, and that is very beneficial for the clients to have that space to explore trying life different ways."
SEEING THE BENEFITS
The professionals came from across the United States, with many from East Texas.
Carrol McGlaun, a certified equine specialist at Revolution Ranch in Lindale, said she has seen first-hand how horses can help people because the person connects with the horse and then is able to help the person connect with what's going on inside of them.
"A horse will relate to a person like nobody else will, and the spirit of a horse can help the spirit of a person," she said.
Frank Reed, founder and CEO of Touchstone Ranch Recovery Center in Hico, about 9 miles southeast of Stephenville, has used horses for four years at his recovery center for alcoholics and drug addicts.
He implemented the equine-assisted therapy after visiting another facility that was already using the method.
"I can see the results … what the horses can do for people, how it can change their lives," he said.