Many past residents cite TK Ranch, our equine therapy program, as one of the most spiritually invigorating elements of their residential treatment experience. TK Ranch is certified by the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA).
What is Equine Therapy?
Equine therapy, more properly known as equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP), is an experiential treatment method proven to help women overcome substance abuse, eating disorders, mood disorders, and other co-occurring psychiatric and addictive disorders. Equine therapy provides residents the opportunity to work with and care for horses as a way to practice skills and address issues necessary for their recovery. This interaction promotes emotional growth and learning opportunities, and exposes many residents to contact with a horse for the first time.
Equine therapy is a collaborative effort between a licensed therapist and an equine professional. Interactive sessions allow women to practice dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) skills, recovery principles, and other skills emphasized in residential treatment. Equine therapy staff are fully informed of each woman’s treatment plan, and they collaborate with her treatment team to make sure that equine therapy addresses her needs. They also help her core treatment team members to capitalize on her progress in equine therapy during the remainder of her week.
Attributes strengthened through a woman’s work with a horse and an equine therapist include:
- willingness to trust
- non-verbal communication skills
- problem-solving skills
- creative thinking
- interpersonal relationships
Equine therapy at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center focuses on ground activities, not horsemanship, and is safe for women with physical complications from eating disorders and substance abuse. All residents are eligible to participate when therapeutically appropriate, and most activities are conducted on campus.
Who Benefits From Equine Therapy?
Equine therapy works particularly well for women with significant challenges in relating to friends and family, as well as those with extensive history of trauma. Though these women often struggle to relate to others, the strength and spirit of horses can influence them in powerful ways that lead to breakthroughs in treatment. Success in relating to another living being, the horse, can help women restore trust in others and feel a new sense of empowerment. Ultimately, equine therapy can help women to break free of their relationship with an addiction or eating disorder, and begin to develop supportive relationships with peers and treatment staff.
Women with co-occurring addictions or psychiatric disorders may receive particular benefit from equine therapy. In a single interaction, a woman can experience success relating to a horse in ways that inspire confidence in her power over a wide range of destructive thoughts and behavior patterns. Some of the conditions most impacted by equine therapy include:
- substance abuse and drug addiction
- eating disorders
- adult and childhood trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- mood disorders and anxiety disorders
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
From EAGALA: Why Horses?
Those who are familiar with horses recognize and understand the power of horses to influence people in incredibly powerful ways. Developing relationships, training, horsemanship instruction, and caring for the horses naturally affects the people involved in a positive manner.
The benefits of work ethic, responsibility, assertiveness, communication, and healthy relationships has long been recognized. Horses naturally provide these benefits. The use of horses is growing and gaining popularity with the rise of new approaches in working with the horses, including the field of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.
We are often asked, "Why horses? Why not other animals?"
Horses are large and powerful, which creates a natural opportunity for some to overcome fear and develop confidence. The size and power of the horse are naturally intimidating to many people. Accomplishing a task involving the horse, in spite of those fears, creates confidence and provides for wonderful metaphors when dealing with other intimidating and challenging situations in life.
Horses are very much like humans in that they are social animals. They have defined roles within their herds. They would rather be with their peers. They have distinct personalities, attitudes, and moods. An approach that seems to work with one horse, does not necessarily work with another. At times, they seem stubborn and defiant. They like to have fun. In other words, horses provide vast opportunities for metaphorical learning. Using metaphors, in discussion or activity, is an effective technique when working with even the most challenging individuals or groups.
Horses require work, whether in caring for them or working with them. In an era when immediate gratification and the "easy way" are the norm, horses require people to be engaged in physical and mental work to be successful, a valuable characteristic in all aspects of life.
Most importantly, horses have the ability to mirror exactly what human body language is telling them. Many people will complain, "The horse is stubborn. The horse doesn’t like me," etc. But the lesson to be learned is that if they change themselves, the horses respond differently. Horses are honest, which makes them especially powerful messengers.