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Equine Assisted Therapy on a Rainy Day

Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) has been reported as beneficial for numerous families living with FASD. Common therapies are often found to be ineffective, as they do not account for the unique needs associated with cognitive impairment. EAT uses experiential learning, without the need to discuss abstract concepts, which can enable positive change for those with FASD.

Anxiety is a common experience for children and adults living with FASD. Therapist Elizabeth Hannah recently shared a case study outlining how EAT teaches clients to regulate their own emotions in order to develop a relationship with, and provide care for, a horse. Read her story below.

Recently, a 14-year-old called Emma attended Black Horse Therapies on a rainy and windy day. Emma has a history of strong anxiety. Horses are sensitive to the weather and sometimes become nervous in strong wind and other storm conditions. We have a large area at the back of a big shed for wet or windy days.

This was Emma’s second visit. During her first session she showed a calm and gentle way with the horse she was working with, which calmed him like magic! I had never seen Sammy, our Clydie-cross, so relaxed with anyone. Her mother commented afterwards that they seemed almost to be hypnotized!

During Emma’s second session I introduced her to Pip, our 2-year-old miniature horse. Pip was quite nervous about the sound of the rain on the tin roof of the shed. I asked Emma if she could help Pip settle down.

We found that Pip was feeling too restless to enjoy being brushed (which she usually loves) and that she was better being led around. Pip is a young horse and, in some ways, similar to a young child. Emma has younger siblings and she understood this about Pip (without being told). I set out hoops for Pip to walk through and logs for her to walk over. I increased the height of the logs after each successful attempt.

Emma worked with Pip with enormous patience and got her to do everything she was asked. Pip engaged with her and followed her around, and gradually her nervousness subsided. By the end of the session she was calm and relaxed.

Emma’s manner remained gentle and firm when Pip was having trouble concentrating. Not once did she use force to get Pip to do what she was asked. This was very moving for her Mum and me to witness. Emma had shown the strength of gentleness.

When asked, Emma said that her own anxiety level had remained low throughout the session. By focusing on Pip’s needs, and recognizing her nervousness and need for assistance, Emma was able to regulate her own emotions as she pursued an important goal. Horses are extremely attuned to human emotion, and Emma knew that her own emotional state was an important factor in assisting Pip.


FASD and Equine Assisted Therapy

My experience in the horse yard with young people who have difficulty regulating emotions and anxiety (including those with a diagnosis of FASD) has been consistent. They have shown gentleness, and been able to calm themselves, in a way that has often surprised and moved their parents and carers.

For more information about Equine Assisted Therapy & FASD see my previous blogs on this website.

Elizabeth works as an Equine Assisted Therapist on her property near Kyneton, Victoria. She is a FASD-informed practitioner listed on the FASD Hub. For more information see her website or her Facebook page.

Read more NOFASD Australia blogs


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