MMN 040: Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy – with Cheyenne Carter

On this episode of the Make a Mental Note podcast, Cheyenne Carter, a licensed professional counselor and counselor educator, discusses how conducting counseling with the assistance of horses can help clients improve their mental wellness. Give it a listen and find out why this episode is worthy of a mental note!

Cheyenne Carter interview (click on Cheyenne’s name to listen to interview)

Mental Notes:

* Equine-assisted psychotherapy – counselor, client and horse (and an equine specialist). The horse becomes a partner in the healing process. There are many ways of practicing equine-assisted psychotherapy based on the counselor’s theoretical orientation.

* Horses are animals of prey and so they have sensitive nervous systems. As such, they provide feedback to clients as to what it’s like to be in a relationship with them. Specifically, when clients pair with horses it provides horses with opportunities to provide feedback to clients regarding their relationship styles/skills, which creates a metaphor for how clients relate to people (i.e., there are parallels along these lines).

* Building a relationship with a horse can be healing for some clients while for other clients developing a relationship provides them with insights as to what they might need to do to change the way they relate to people.

* Animals have been used in counseling for many years. They have been used with soldiers who came back from war to help in the healing process.

* In some cases, counselors use a behavior modification approach to help clients procure a different type of response from the horse in an effort to alter their (i.e., client’s) relationship styles/skills. Other counselors – such as Cheyenne – use a metaphorical approach whereby horses assist clients with affect regulation (i.e., clients have to regulate their own affect/emotions to help horses feel safe and comfortable in their presence).

* Equine-assisted psychotherapy is a powerful approach for counselors to use in grief work.

* The presence of an animal helps motivate some clients to work on difficult issues in counseling.

* Individual and group formats are used for equine-assisted psychotherapy. In individual psychotherapy, the counselor helps the client develop a relationship with a horse. In some cases, there are many horses from which clients can choose to develop a relationship and the counselor asks them to walk around and spend some time with them and perhaps groom them, see how the horse responds when they walk up to them, etc. in an effort to see which one is a good fit. In the meantime, the counselor observes how the client goes about approaching a new task outside of their comfort zone.

* Some counselors do not have clients ride horses and simply do “ground work.” In these cases, it’s all about relationship building, grooming and activities. For example:

*** put lead rope on horse and bring them into a ring and lead horse through an obstacle course;

*** “horse billiards” – establishing “pockets” in each area of the ring and figuring out a way of getting the horse to go to the “pocket” without touching or bribing the horse, which involves learning how to use the body to communicate to horses;

*** teaching communication – rope on horse near its head and use rope as a communication tool to get it to do certain things (e.g., backing up) – parallels to communication in the human sphere are made throughout this process (e.g., passive vs. assertive vs. aggressive forms of communication)

* Teamwork can be an important component of equine-assisted psychotherapy.

* The counselor determines how the horse can be used to help clients achieve their therapeutic goals.

* Horses give feedback to clients via body language and actions (e.g., restless; running away).

* As a counseling technique, a counselor might say to the client, “I noticed that the horse did ________. I wonder what you think about that?” or “I noticed that when you did this that the horse stomped his foot. I wonder what was going on with the horse? or It seems like you can’t quite get this relationship to work. I wonder what you could do differently to motivate the horse to work with you?”

* The horse serves as an object of conversations with the client about their issues and relationship styles.

* Horses can pick up on the feelings of clients.

* Developing a relationship with a horse can have a healing effect for clients.

* Determining whether or not equine-assisted psychotherapy has helped a client resolve their problems is based on the counselor’s theoretical orientation, but some general things that counselors look for are 1) the reported behaviors that were going on prior to counseling are no longer occurring (or occurring at the same level of frequency), 2) learning new skills or approaches to managing symptoms (e.g., anger) and/or relating to others, 3) gaining insight into self and others and translating that to life.

* Termination of equine-assisted psychotherapy – just doesn’t involve saying goodbye to the counselor, but also saying goodbye to the horse. Helping the client transition from the support provided by the counselor and horse to others in the client’s social network is key.

* Challenges in doing equine-assisted psychotherapy – counselors and clients must be comfortable working outdoors.

* Counselors need to develop a strong set of basic counseling skills, which serve as a foundation to do equine-assisted psychotherapy.

* Certification bodies offer trainings in equine-assisted therapy/set standards for conducting this type of therapy.

* Insurance companies are starting to recognize and reimburse for equine-assisted psychotherapy.

Mental Notes Takeaway:

* Animals – such as horses – provide a powerful medium to help clients learn about themselves and their styles of relating to people as well as developing methods of resolving their problems.

Check It Out:

* Cheyenne Carter’s website:

* Equest:

* Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA):

* Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH):

* Spirit Reins –

209 Castlewood Drive Suite D
Murfreesboro, TN. 37129
(615) 403-5227

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