BY LESLIE MOLINARI
Equine Assisted Therapy is an established therapeutic program, but is still new to some people. Recently, I was privileged to witness a session at Blue Bell Equine Assisted Therapy in Blue Bell, PA, where I was able to see how it works.
Driving down a long driveway past tree lined paddocks, I arrived at The Kindle Hill Foundation, home of Blue Bell Equine Assisted Therapy. I was warmly greeted by Sean Homsher, LPC, NCC, and EAGALA certified Mental Health Practitioner, and his wife, Leslie Molinari, a longtime well respected horsewoman, who introduced me to their therapy horses before the session started.
As the session began, I watched two paint horses nuzzling each other in the middle of the indoor. They were seemingly oblivious to the young girl sitting silently off to their left. Lauren (not her real name) watched without comment for a few minutes. She then stood, walked over to become part of the group, and scratched both their necks before sitting back down.
At the edge of the arena, an Equine Specialist and Sean Homsher (who were both observing this) asked Lauren if they could check in with her? First, the Equine Specialist described what she observed in the horses. Next, Sean asked Lauren what the encounter meant to her?
She described how she saw just another group that she didn’t belong to, and how she always was the outsider. Even though she would try to become part of the group, she never felt part of it. When Sean asked her how she felt about this, Lauren felt they didn’t want her.
Returning to the horses, who had now begun to walk separately around the arena, Lauren followed them. She became part of the herd, petting their necks till they walked past her and began nuzzling and grooming each other again.
Once again, Lauren sat and observed them, taking the opportunity to occasionally move in and out of the herd, participating with ease and no apparent stress in the horses’ demeanor. When the horses again separated from her, Sean checked in.
He asked her whether this was a pattern in her life? She replied that it was, and proceeded to describe situations where she felt left out. The horses began to walk closer to her, as if listening to the conversation, when Lauren disclosed very personal details of what happened to lead to these feelings of being an outsider. At that very moment, the mare took two full steps forward, shielding her from the other horse. The mare placed her head on the girl’s shoulder while Lauren detailed to Sean everything that had happened.
The power of the moment wasn’t lost on the therapist. Sean asked Lauren if she noticed what the mare did. She hadn’t, because she was feeling like she couldn’t breathe when she spoke. She hadn’t realized the mare had stepped forward to shield her from the herd. As she began to talk about the emotional weight she carried, the mare remained with her. The horse kept her head against Lauren’s shoulder till she was finished speaking.
In that moment, Lauren had a breakthrough realizing the weight she’d carried around with her for years, and how it had impacted her. She realized she didn’t want to carry it anymore and asked for help in letting it go.
Sean explained the importance of the moment, “This is why the horses are truly partners in what we do as an Equine Assisted Therapy practice. It was because of her interpretation of what happened while interacting with the horses that she was able to realize this. She wasn’t sitting in an office, deciding if she trusted a therapist enough to disclose traumatic personal details. The horses didn’t judge her, or try to interpret her. They simply accepted her as she was, and mirrored back what they saw, up to and including “shielding her” from an older male, who in this case was another horse,”
Leslie added, “Horses mirror what they see from the human in front of them, and whatever outward appearance someone projects may fool a human, but it will never fool a horse. Horses are prey animals and have evolved amazing perception to determine whether the person approaching them is a threat, or not. Someone hiding fear, depression, anxiety, or relationship issues may be very successful keeping this from the world, but they can’t fool a horse.”
Sean further stated, “Giving yourself over to the process can lead to quicker breakthroughs where clients were previously “stuck” in therapy, or as a compliment to an existing therapeutic relationship where a client is comfortable with their therapist, but feels like they need a jumpstart.” Equine Assisted Therapy is appropriate for any mental health issues and is extremely effective in treating PTSD.
Blue Bell Equine Assisted Therapy is located at The Kindle Hill Foundation 901 Morris Road Blue Bell, PA. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, please call 267-396-6166 or visit us at www.bluebellequineassistedtherapy.com.