HURRICANE – On Friday afternoon Business Network International members were invited to attend an executive equine demonstration presented by Therapy Associates. The event was held in Hurricane and despite the rainy weather 20 participants from 11 different companies participated.
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy uses horses to help with emotional growth and learning, and is usually associated with individual therapy. It is a collaborative effort between a licensed therapist and an equine professional working together with a client and horses to address treatment goals.
The use of horses in therapy dates back to the 1960s. By going beyond the traditional line of “talk” therapy, which sometimes is hard for people who are unable to adequately open up and talk, a horse will mirror the client’s moods, attitudes and feelings. This allows the therapist to also better understand the client.
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Videocast by Samantha Tommer, St. George News
Therapy Associates have taken the concept of equine assisted psychotherapy one step further by introducing it to the corporate world. Equine therapy helps participants to learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with the horses, and then using discussion to process feelings, behaviors, and patterns.
Curious participants were lead out to a covered arena where two horses were waiting. Though the horses are used frequently to participate in the therapy sessions, they are not trained in anyway. It’s their natural ability to read people’s feelings and emotions that makes them so effective in this type of therapy.
In the first activity participants were separated into two teams of 10 members each. Each team was then instructed to harness one of the horses and bring it back to the other end of the arena. Gary Ferguson is an equine specialist and also a substance abuse counselor.
During today’s event he was one of the horse specialists and worked along side his wife, Lorneta Ferguson, who is a therapist and co-owner of Therapy Associates. He can read how horses react to different people to reveal various strengths and weaknesses.
“If you take a scale of one to 10, with one being very introverted and 10 being very aggressive, and the center being very confident, the horses will be able to tell where people fall on that scale,” Gary Ferguson said. “Those who fall in the middle of that scale will usually relate well with the horses. The horses trust that confidence.”
This was evident when the horses, not the team members, determined who they were going to allow to harness them. The horses ran from some team members, but allowed others to walk up and place the harnesses. Once the horses were harnessed, the next activity was explained.
Each team was given several 8-by-8-inch wood tiles. The goal of this activity was to have each team use the tiles to get to the other end of the arena without stepping in the dirt. For this exercise, everyone had to imagine the dirt was lava. The goal was achieved when the whole team reached the opposite end of the arena and touched the rail, while leading the horse by its harness. The rule was that if anyone steps off of the tile that person’s team had to start over.
After the activity participants were asked to give feedback of how they felt while completing the activity. Some felt good that they accomplished the task. Others acknowledged the need for teamwork and trust.
They were then asked how what they’ve learned could be used in their day to day work. Some acknowledged the fact some days bring on challenges and surprises. They didn’t expect to be doing what they did in these activities, and had to adjust their preconceived ideas and learn quickly how to work together with people they didn’t know previously. Some recognized the differences in strengths of others, and the need to rely on the strength of others.
The second part of the activity included a catch. Four people were designated to pick up any tile that was not being used. Other team members didn’t know this at first. But once they figured this out, they had to maneuver in a way that would prevent their tiles from being absconded.
The last activity required all 20 participants to work as a team to guide two horses through a simple obstacle course. It sounded easy until the rules were explained. The team members could not talk to one another. They could not touch the horses, and they could not bribe the horses with pretend food.
The consequence for anyone who broke the rules was that they were blindfolded for one minute. The group had 15 minutes to accomplish the goal. Participants could use items they found in the arena as a help, and found several long pieces of PVC pipe to help guide the horses through the course.
Participants had to learn to read body language and use nonverbal communication to complete the task at hand. “Horses are amazing animals. They mirror what they feel,” Lorneta Ferguson said. “If we’ve got a client with high anxiety the horse will mirror that anxiety. Even if a client is trying to hide that the horse is mirroring it; so we just say to the client: ‘what’s going on with the horse?’ Then we can tell they are trying to hide something and there’s something going on.”
The purpose of today’s demonstration by Therapy Associates was to show business leaders how equine assisted therapy can help companies to set and achieve goals by training its employees how to recognize personal strengths and weakness, the need for effective communication, problem solving skills and goal setting.
- Address: 166 N. 300 W., St. George, Utah 84770
- Phone: 435-862-8273
- Website: Therapy Associates
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