CJS: What is your personal
history with horses and how did you come to integrate equine experiences
into your work as a psychotherapist?
LB: I began riding when I was 6
years old and loved it from the start. Like many "horse people" I found
it healing just being around the stable. As a teenager and young adult I
found taking care of my horse helped me unwind and diffuse the tensions
of the day. As an adult, I had always been interested in psychology but
it wasn't until I reached my forties that I began to fully understand
the therapeutic potential of incorporating horses into psychotherapy. At
that time I decided to go to graduate school to get my masters in
counseling psychology so I could combine my two passions.
CJS: People tend to think that
equine facilitated therapy means they will be riding a horse. Can you
explain to our community how that is not the case and how you actually
use horses in your work?
LB: The techniques I use do not
involve riding or teaching horsemanship. All the activities take place
on the ground and they focus on how the client relates to the horses...
and visa versa! Mounted activities tend to be more directive but my
activities are non-directive and allow people to explore, problem
solve, be creative, and have fun! It is not my goal to teach people
about horses but rather to have them learn about themselves
through interacting with the horses.
CJS: Is there any way in which
horses are particularly suited to this kind of facilitated therapy as
opposed to other animals like dogs for example?
LB: Yes. Horses are domesticated but
still retain some of their instinctual nature or "wildness." They tend
to be less concerned about "people pleasing" than dogs, and they are
much larger and more powerful. Their size and beauty often evoke a sense
of awe, but they can also be intimidating. Horses prefer to live in
herds with defined roles. They have distinct personalities and
moods. Observing equine
social interactions can motivate people to examine their
own human social behavior. Also, horses tend to respond spontaneously,
without holding back or hiding affect. They are very sensitive and are
excellent at observing human body language, often detecting latent or
unacknowledged emotions. Because of this, the expression "horses don't
lie" has become quite popular.
CJS: Some people might think that your work is
like pet therapy. Can you explain how it is not?
LB: Often the goal in pet therapy is
to calm the patient and get them to relax and feel good so they will
open up and talk. That happens in equine therapy too, but more often
than not, there are also sessions where the patient
experiences conflicting or uncomfortable feelings. In pet therapy, the
animal may be a passive assistant to the therapist, but in equine
sessions, the horses take center stage. Patients are asked to engage
with them in specific activities that may illicit difficult emotions
such as anger, fear, frustration, sadness, despair, or helplessness, but
these are likely the very issues that need to be addressed in the
CJS: Recently John Beebe, the
Jungian analyst, spoke to our group and he said that the horse had been
a valuable personal totem for him and he wished he could stay longer in
Florida and attend your workshop. He said that horses often
carry heavy burdens and that they can be sensitive and sometimes
anxious. He said finding this 'horse identity' had helped him carry his
burdens in life. Can you speak to this comment from Dr. Beebe?
LB: There are several points in Dr.
Beebe's comment that are applicable to equine therapy, but what stands
out most to me is his use of metaphor. He relates the physical burdens
horses carry to his personal burdens in life, which are carried by his
horse identity. Metaphor such as this is a key component of equine
therapy that helps connect the conscious with the unconscious
mind. Patients experience live horses in activities which
are processed as metaphors that illuminate their specific issues, thus
facilitating personal insight.
CJS: What are some examples
of common projections people have onto horses?:
classic example is "the horse is afraid," when really it's the person
who is afraid! But when you think about it, just about any observation
we make about a horse is potentially a projection! Acknowledging this is
difficult for many people who believe they "know" what a horse is
thinking or feeling. Working with assumptions and projections placed
on horses is a huge part of equine therapy just as it is with any
psychotherapy that acknowledges the power of the unconscious.