Speaking about the essence of Equine Assisted Therapy, it is necessary to point out that this therapy is apparently an attempt to use natural means and tools to treat people. Nowadays, this may seem to be a bit unusual since traditional methods of treatment imply the involvement of health care specialists and often are associated with the use of medicaments. Moreover, often the influence of community is used to help individuals with health problems similar to those that have people with addictions.
In stark contrast, Equine Assisted Therapy suggest a real alternative to traditional therapies and treatments of addictions and the return to natural tools of treatment is unquestionably one of the key elements of the therapy. In actuality, it seems to be quite effective because, taking into consideration the fact that many people become addicts only because they cannot bear the rhythm and conditions of the modern life and simply attempt to escape from reality, it is quite logical that Equine Assisted Therapy can be really helpful providing opportunities to escape from extremely stressful life and make patients feel themselves a part of nature as they actually are. In this respect, it is worthy of mention that people living in urban areas are particularly susceptible to addictions because of they are more exposed to stresses and negative external influences while they lack opportunities to relax and recover from stresses. As a result, they just attempt to relax, to escape from reality with the help of alcohol, drugs, food, etc. that gradually become their addictions they turn to be totally dependent on. In such a situation, Equine Assisted Therapy can be an effective alternative helping people to acquire new knowledge and life skills they have never experienced before and which can totally eliminate their addictions.
In fact, Equine Assisted Therapy is based on the use of horses in the mental health work. To put it more precisely, this therapy uses horses as tools for emotional growth and learning of patients with addictions. It is necessary to underline that this therapy is quite complicated since it involves the work of not only a licensed therapist but also needs his/her cooperation with a horse professional. Such cooperation is essential because the therapist solely cannot fully and effectively use the potential of Equine Assisted Therapy because he/she simply lacks knowledge about horses, peculiarities of their behavior, etc. Consequently, the Assisted of a horse professional is essential. As a result, in cooperation, they can develop effective treatment of people with addictions since therapists can properly use the information they receive from horse professional and apply this knowledge about horses in their treatment.
It is worthy of mention that the basic goal of the collaborative efforts of the therapist and the horse professional is to generate a positive engagement with patients utilizing experiential, animal-based modality. It should be said that during this therapy people with addictions learn about themselves and others by participating in structured activities with the horses, then processing their feelings, behaviors, and patterns. Also it is necessary to underline that, as a rule, Equine Assisted Therapy is considered to be a short-term, a brief approach because of its intensity and effectiveness.
The choice of horses in the treatment of patients with addictions is not occasional. In actuality, this therapy is based on the belief that horses do not lie. Moreover, they provide “immediate, highly accurate feedback about their handlers’ personalities, attitudes and moods by precisely mirroring what human body language tells them”¯ (Spink 1993:74). It should be pointed out that horses being physically powerful can produce a strong emotional impact on patients. As a rule, people have controversial emotions when horses are used in their treatment since these high-spirited, powerful, intelligent and kind animals can evoke a range of emotions varying from delight to despair, from love to loathing, from friendliness to fear. At any rate, people always have strong emotions in Equine Assisted Therapy that can help them learn essential life skills and make them feel differently.
Traditionally, Equine Assisted Therapy is conducted in groups, with an equine therapist responsible for the horses’ and patients’ safety and a primary psychotherapist who facilitates the process through experiential techniques that promote the relationship between the patients and horses and maximizes the therapeutic process. In fact, the focus of Equine Assisted Therapy involves setting up activities involving the horses which will require the patient or group to apply certain skills. There are a variety of tools utilized and developed by Equine Assisted Therapy, among which may be named non-verbal communication, assertiveness, creative thinking, leadership, work, taking responsibilities, confidence and attitude, relationships and teamwork and some others.
Furthermore, it should be said that the choice is an extremely important part of Equine Assisted Therapy and patients learn to make choices consciously so that they could take independent and objective decisions based not on their personal emotions and immediate desires but on a logical choice which implies taking into consideration objective external factors. Basically, the process begins with the patient choosing a horse. In this respect, it is worthy of noting that most patients select equines that reflect important aspects of themselves. It is not a secret that horses have their own character and their relationship within a herd resembles those within human society. This is why such choices are quite logical and help people better understand themselves as well as their surrounding and main principles of social life. As a result, patients’ verbal descriptions of their chosen animals are usually pure projection of their own personalities, issues and body types.
Naturally, there are cases when more than one person selects a particular animal. In such a situation, issues around sharing and negotiating arise and must be resolved before the session can begin. Specialists underline that “how patients approach their horses and related tasks offers irrefutable insight into how they approach other life challenges”¯ (Heipertz 1977:170). In such a way, Equine Assisted Therapy can stimulate the development of essential life skills that patients lack of and, thus, they will be able to overcome their addictions and recover from their current mental health problem.
Also it is worthy of noting that Equine Assisted Therapy work must be done outdoors, in all whether and at all times,Ā that is very important since it makes people closer to nature and develop their ability to overcome the problems and difficulties that can appear in their life without their own will. For instance, they cannot change whether but due to Equine Assisted Therapy they learn to face unpleasant whether, even though they used to avoid it in the past. In such a way, they learn to be stronger, conscious of their personal power and ability to overcome their own weaknesses and, consequently, they will believe that they can overcome their addiction.
Finally, it should be said that Equine Assisted Therapy provides a way for patients to “heal and integrate parts of themselves that have been wounded or underdeveloped, as well as a platform for rapid, sustainable change and growth”¯ (Kersten 1998:254) that is extremely important to patients with addictions since often their personalities are practically torn in pieces between the stressful reality and the irresistible desire to escape from it in their addiction.