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Making sense of relationships

Unlike traditional psychotherapy which usually involves a one-to-one, client-therapist relationship, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy allows multiple relationship formation to occur; client-horse(s) and client-facilitators. The human-horse interaction, closely observed by the facilitators, enables a tangible reflection on the relational dynamics of the client.

Clients sometimes gravitate to one horse over another.

Client - 'This horse doesn't pay me as much attention as the others but I really want to be with him more than the others'.

Facilitator - 'What in particular is the horse doing that makes you want to be with him?'

Client - 'He's decided where he wants to be and he's sticking to it. I know where I am with him. I can move around him without being worried that he's going to change his mind'

Facilitator - 'Changing his mind, what's that like for you?

Client - 'Like my family, I know I stress them out but I can't handle it when they go charging around all the time. I want them to stop trying to make me feel better but instead feel better themselves'

Clients may become preoccupied with the horse-horse interaction.

Client - 'I'm trying to protect the little one as I think he's getting left out and picked on'

Facilitator - 'Left out and picked on. What's he doing to make you think that"?

Client - 'He's looking sad and turning away like he doesn't want to be here. Scared too.'

Facilitator - 'What else is he doing?'

Client - 'He keeps putting his nose on my shoulder like he needs my help'

Facilitator - 'What's that like when he puts his nose on your shoulder?'

Client - 'I like it. Like he trusts me and knows I'm going to be kind to him.'

Facilitator - 'Does that remind you of anything'?

Client - 'He's like me. I want to be able to trust people more. But when I get scared I end up doing nasty's like it's easier to be nasty than to admit I feel scared'.

Clients sometimes reflect on what the horses 'need' in the interaction with them. It often reveals a need to change something, in this case a questions of boundaries.

Client - 'I don't know why this horse needs to stand so close to me'

Facilitator - 'What's he doing when he stands close to you?'

Client ' - 'He's moving sideways, closer and closer to me so that I have to move over'

Facilitator - 'So he's moving and then you are moving and he's moving again?'

Client - 'Yes, like he wants to be where I'm standing and I'm letting him'

Facilitator - 'So you're letting him move you?

Client - 'Yeh...but I guess I could just stand my ground (stands still for a moment to reflect whilst horse drops his head with a sign). Er, now he's just standing next to me.

Facilitator - 'So what happened then?'

Client - 'I stood my ground. He turned his head around my waist and sniffed. Like he was telling me he needed me to be strong and not be pushed around'

The way the horse reacts to the person is a reflection of how the person makes them feel. They react to unspoken needs, undefined boundaries, suppressed emotions, unconscious patterns of behaviour and entrenched attachment behaviours. What goes on in the mind of the person when the horse interacts with them - such as being approached, pushed, watched, turned way from etc - brings a new found awareness to relational difficulties and enables new ways of being to emerge. Importantly, these new ways of being are discovered by the client themselves and hence lead to meaningful, long lasting change in their emotional and mental health.

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