Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is a treatment modality in which horses are used to introduce therapy clients to themselves in a manner that is more efficient and less threatening than traditional verbal therapy. During EAP sessions, horses become a metaphorical vehicle in which clients are able to observe their own instinctual behavioral patterns and reaction to external stimulation. Clients are taught that the principle interaction between humans and horses during all equestrian activities consists in the rider/trainer delivering non-verbal cues (reining, spurring, etc.) that apply a certain amount of pressure and pain on the animal. They are further taught that horses move toward pain and away from pressure, which makes riding and reining horses possible.
Emotionally healthy humans respond to pressure and pain in a similar fashion: part of processing emotional pain consists in confronting it, identifying the cause, and working towards relieving the pressure a particular pain is exerting on one’s life. Such is done by resolving conflicts in relationships, forgiving others, reconciling past experiences or traumas, admitting faults, amending wrongs, and moving forward.
In contrast, emotionally unhealthy people tend to avoid pain and to allow dysfunction to remain a constant source of pressure in their lives, which is quite evident in the gamut of aberrant behaviors many EAP participants exhibit prior to treatment. Whether this behavior consists in abusing drugs, or in maintaining a codependent or abusive romantic relationship, there is a paralysis of sorts that prevents one from an onward movement.
Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy teaches clients that emotionally unhealthy people spend their lives in a stasis of repetition that allows no room for personal growth and, ultimately, results in emotional bankruptcy, delinquency, and hedonism. By revealing parallels between equine behavior and human emotional cognition during structured EAP activities, therapists are able to help clients identify corrective approaches that can be taken to overcome the particular issues they face in their daily lives. Additional benefits can be seen by the fact that horses cannot be manipulated or “strong-armed,” and that they are incredibly attuned to our emotional state every time we interact with them. We find that improvements in patience and analytical skills result from EAP participation, as well as an ability to read body language and pick up on social cues. These forms of non-verbal communication are often lacking in many of the young men we work with and seem to contribute to much of their frustration, feelings of isolation, and inability to empathize with others.
For these reasons, Petty Creek Ranch uses Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy to help young men who struggle with conflict resolution, anger management, substance abuse, and a variety of other conduct disorders. We find that the immediate therapeutic alliance that is formed between the young men and the horses they use during EAP sessions also makes this approach particularly beneficial for clients who have autism, reactive attachment disorder, and oppositional/defiance disorder.
We at Petty Creek Ranch cherish our horses and the central role they play within our Montana culture. While your son is in our program, he will also go on frequent recreational outings into some of the most rugged and pristine wilderness areas in the continental United States on horseback. Pack trips into the back country to fly fish at an alpine lake, or to scout elk in some remote area for an upcoming hunting season, are among the many activities he will experience at PCR. We believe that these first-time experiences will deepen his immersion within our therapeutic milieu and provide an alternative recreational outlet in which he can satiate the natural thrill-seeking behavior that is inherent in adolescence. By redirecting these natural inclinations, our team of qualified mentors will help your son discover his strengths and reach his full potential.