While there are a number of ways to describe equine therapy to those not familiar with horses, sometimes there is nothing better than a personal interview. For this blog, I interviewed Pam Salem, an equine expert and co-facilitator of the equine therapy experiential program at English Mountain Recovery. Pam is also the founder of Equine Assisted Assets, which is dedicated to the growth and advancement of equine therapy.
1. What drew you to equine therapy?
As a horse lover from an early age, I knew the benefits that horses had given to my life. I wanted to share those benefits with others.
2. What are the major benefits to the client of equine therapy?
One primary benefit is authentic connection. Clients learn the difference in relating to the horse as a willing partner and how that connection feels. Kinesthetically it is something they are able to take with them into future relationships. The non-judgmental equine partner provides a safe emotional environment for recognizing one’s patterns of behavior and learning coping skills.
3. What would you like other clinicians to know about equine therapy?
It is not a petting zoo. Understanding the deep nature of horses and their language is an important dimension of the work. Horses have much to offer as partners in learning, and must be respected in their own right. Taking the time to learn about the horses and their language can benefit the clients as well as enhance the quality of life for the clinician.
4. What type of client is well served by equine therapy?
Currently there are many different applications of learning and healing with horses: eating disorders, at-risk & adjudicated youth, autism, alcohol & drug recovery programs, personal development, workplace training, foster care & adoption, reunification, law enforcement training, domestic violence survivors, wounded warrior programs – just to name a few. Clients that are stuck in office talk-therapy can often benefit from horse sessions where their patterns pop right out in front of them aided by the horse’s honest reaction to their behavior.
5. What advice could you give to someone who would like to enter the field of equine therapy?
Trust your own talents, skills, and experience, because you are your own best asset. Experience a variety of trainings offered in the field to find what resonates for your style, but do not trade wisdom for technique. To understand the history of the field and its foundational models, you can go to http://equineassistedassets.com/, which was created in 2005, dedicated to the success of equine assisted work, and to the support and encouragement of those who are inspired to do it.
Pam Salem entered the field of equine therapy in 1998, has co-facilitated equine assisted programs with a licensed therapist since 2000, and currently co-facilitates an equine experiential program at English Mountain Recovery Center since 2010. She is a founding member of the Equine Experiential Education Association, www.e3assoc.org.
Claire Dorotik LMFT