photo courtesy of David Hylander
I saw a child who couldn't walk, sit on a horse, laugh and talk...I saw a child who could only crawl, mount a horse and sit up tall. I saw a child born into strife, take up and hold the reins of life. And that same child was heard to say, Thank God for showing me the way. ~ John Anthony Davis

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy
for Substance Abuse and Dependence

Relapse rates within addiction to substances range from 50-90% The best chances to avoid relapse is to adopt behaviors that will change your lifestyle; abstinence, healthy relationships and resolving personal problems will all help raise the percentages on preventing relapse. National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), 2007

Battling with a substance abuse and/or dependence issue has immense social consequences such as failure to meet work, family, or school obligations, interpersonal conflicts, or legal problems. Clients are given the opportunity to interact with the horses in a number of tasks or activities that offer a new and interesting forum for those who have never been around horses before. Working with horses offers the chance to learn ways of letting go of old fears, habits and hang-ups that have been barriers to successfully kicking a drug or alcohol habit. Horses can teach us to be honest with ourselves, and that is oftentimes the first steps in recovery.

By exploring various skills on the ground with the horses our clients are encouraged to view them as equals which in turn offers the client(s) a natural intervention from a non-judgmental living being. Horses are highly intelligent and magnificent creatures, they can be submissive and also reticent of situations or people that they do not trust. A part of the equine experience that we offer addiction clients is to learn how to gain the horses trust - this is done through simple exercises, interactions, communication and feedback. Established trust between the client(s) and the horse(s) offers a setting of acceptance, cooperation, internal connection and hope which can be highly therapeutic to a struggling mind.

Oftentimes, years of addiction takes its toll on relationships and undermines one's confidence leading to feelings of loneliness, guilt and hopelessness. When a client enters into the arena or paddock with the horses, the relationship is a blank canvas with no preconceived notions, opinions or judgments about the recovering addict. The horses offer a clean reference for clients to see how their actions and behaviors affect others because the horses react immediately and honestly to the energy of their surroundings. Recovery does not have to be a lonely journey because horses remind us how to be a successful and responsible herd member. Life skills such as stress coping, relapse prevention, maintaining productive and successful relationships, positive communication skills, and management of emotions can be learned through interacting with the horses.

photo courtesy of Teaming for Success   photo courtesy of Teaming for Success

Ground based exercises are geared towards addressing areas of concern commonly associated with someone struggling with an addiction. One example of an exercise is called Temptation Alley. Clients are instructed to navigate a horse through a path riddled with hypothetical temptations. A possible outcome of exercise can create a pathway for understanding for the client(s). Let's say for instance, that the alley way is laden with legitimate horse temptations (ex: apple, carrot, sugar cubes), and the client(s) choose what to name each one with relevance (such as "beer" or "cocaine"). If the equine specialist selects a horse who has an undeniable weakness for apples; now there are challenges presented for the client to manage in order to keep the horse on the straight and narrow through the alley way. By experiencing this scenario as the guardian to protect the horse, the client(s) are able to recognize various analogies and metaphors and begin to explore for themselves how this correlates to the reality of their life situation. This exercise can be done alone or with a partner and is meant to bring to light the barriers to recovery and possible solutions that may have been previously unexplored.

photo courtesy of Teaming for SuccessSpring Reins of Hope aims to teach and promote healthy ways of responding to addiction related issues. We have carefully designed both private and group activities with the horses to target issues faced by individuals in recovery. Some of these highlights are:

  • Identify possible barriers to recovery
  • Successful relapse prevention
  • Knowing when to reach out for help
  • Developing effective communication skills
  • Regaining trust in yourself and others
  • Building and maintaining positive relationships

Resources on Substance Abuse and Horses

As the traveler who has lost his way, throws the reins on his horse's neck, and trusts to the instinct of the animal to find his road, so must we do with the divine animal who carries us through this world. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson