Sixety-nine percent of the time the couple had the same problems, same issues and they were talking about them in the same way ~ John Gottman, Ph.D., The Gottman Institute
Marriage and Couples Therapy

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP)
for Couples

Did you ever think that the missing piece to improving communication styles, conflict resolution, self expression and your relationship just may be...A HORSE!

    photo courtesy of Teaming for Success
  • 67% of first marriages end in divorce over a forty year period
  • Half of these divorces occur within the first seven years
  • The divorce rate for second marriages is approximately 10% higher than for first marriages
  • Unhappy marriages can increase the changes of becoming ill by 35%

Of all of the things that can break up a marriage, and there are several, such as communication, money, cheating, wrong expectations, commitment, addictions, intimacy, mid-life crisis, and the "little things" that add up over time to be big things...the most common of these that force most couples to throw in the towel is failed communication. So if we can communicate effectively with the one we love, isn't that a start to solving the myriad of other issues? According to Mehrabian's communication study; only 7% of what we say verbally with words actually communicates, 38% is based on tone of voice and 55% is communicated through body language. This is where we believe the horses can help couples to either establish or regain their communication cord so that they can start putting their relationship back together.

photo courtesy of Equine West ServicesEquine Assisted Therapy is now practiced in most countries in the world and has seen a 233% growth rate since 2006. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) incorporates horses experientially for emotional growth and healing. It is a collaborative effort between a licensed mental health professional, an equine specialist, and the horses working with the couple to address desired outcome and resolution treatment goals. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is experiential in nature. This means that individuals in a couple team learn about themselves, and how they relate as a couple by engaging in activities with the horses, and then processing (or discussing) metaphors, feelings, behaviors and patterns within their own context.

Not all programs for couples that utilize horses practice Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. For one, licensed clinical professionals need to be involved for it to be considered "psychotherapy". The focus of EAP is not riding or horsemanship. The focus of EAP involves setting up ground activities/exercises involving the horses which will require the couple to explore and apply certain skills.

photo courtesy of Teaming for SuccessOne exercise that is particularly effective with the horses and couples is the Obstacle Course. In this activity an obstacle course is set up large enough for the horse to walk through unassisted. Obstacles such as poles, cones, barrels and tires are set up for the couple to navigate the horse through, over or around, etc. The couple's goal for this activity is to get the horse through the obstacles without having the horse leave or knock anything over. We ask the couple to determine their own consequences if any violations occur, something that can be done in the here and now, such as 5 jumping jacks or telling their partner how they feel, etc. This exercise gives information to the treatment team about how a couple interacts, communicates, and consequences themselves in the "real world".

Another slant on this exercise which is a big trust barometer/builder to repeat the obstacle course with one person blindfolded. The couple is asked to pick who will be blind and who will have eyes. The blindfolded member leads the horse through the course completely relying on their partner for guidance and vision. The exercise is then reversed so that couple can reverse roles of guiding and guided. This trust exercise is very revealing to both the treatment team and the couple as the horse will move/react differently with each of its blind leaders. More so, the couple reveals a lot about their level of trust for one another, their communication styles and how they interact when under some pressure.

Horses do make that extra difference. They are seven times more sensitive to body language and subtle energy than humans. In fact, we consider them to be a bit of a "secret weapon" in helping us identify core issues that might go unnoticed in traditional therapeutic modality which is largely focused on what is spoken (talk therapy). Horses respond to subtleties in your body language, and it is the focus on the non-verbals that can be particularly revealing. For example, clients may verbalize a desire or feeling and yet their body language may communicate something entirely different. In the Western culture, the emphasis is placed mostly on what is said. However what is even more revealing is the added layer of body language and discovering the discrepancies between what we say with our mouth and what is said through our body.

We provide a safe environment where our horses can freely interact with and empower you to reflect on your own reactions, behaviors and limitations.

Spring Reins of Hope has created specific exercises with the horses to help couples:

  • Foster respect, affection, closeness and trust
  • Resolve long standing conflicts in your relationship
  • Assure the success of the relationship you are just embarking on or trying to rekindle
  • Build and share a deeper connection with each others inner world
  • Provide an enriched opportunity for learning how to manage conflict
  • Strengthen and maintain the gains in your relationship
  • Enhanced and effective communication skills that fit for your relationship

We believe in getting a thorough understanding of each individual couple's relationship patterns, problems and goals. Our assessment and treatment planning process typically includes a conjoint session where a couple's communication patterns are assessed, individual sessions and completion of questionnaires (to identify treatment goals and assess the relationship). Generally with a couple starting EAP, we will have a pre-screening appointment without the horses, and then 4 to 8 sessions with the horses. As mentioned above we may want to have an EAP session with one person on the couple team or if there are children involved we may want to have the horses work with the family unit for a session. This all depends on the individual needs of the client(s) and the progression of the couple's resolution process.

Resources on Equine Assisted Psychotherapy / Couples