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Horses helping humans to heal
“Equine therapy is not just hanging out with horses,” says Community Mental Health Nurse, Sharon Robertson.
“It’s using a horse’s personality, expressiveness and size to help clients recognise patterns of behaviour.”
Sharon is an EAGALA certified equine therapist who works with horses that help people unlock emotional issues.
“I’ve known horses all my life and work in mental health, so it was a natural progression. I’m a strong believer in the healing power of horses.”
Sharon works with people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (common in veterans and victims of child sex abuse), anxiety, depression or chronic distress.
“Equine therapy offers an alternative for some clients who are sick of talking about their problems. You can bypass the thinking part of the brain when you build a rapport with a horse. It’s about empathy,” explains Sharon.
Hula hoops and traffic cones are used to create a scene that is symbolic of an issue. How a horse reacts, can open minds to a new perspective, she says.
Throughout the session Sharon observes, prompting with questions but the benefit is being present with the horses.
Sharon receives referrals through the Tui Ora GP Mental Health Liaison service, a new service run by the Mental Health and Addictions Service.
“Many clients visiting the GP practice may have mental health problems that need more intensive care than a doctor can provide in a consultation.”
One of Sharon’s clients is Lisa* who had six sessions.
“Lots of the other therapies are too much in my head, too much talking,” she says.
“But with the horses, I feel safe. Sometimes we stand there nose to nose with our eyes closed for a long time. When I open my eyes I feel I can face my problems that I can put them behind me and move on.”
In one session, Lisa drew a circle on the ground to represent a safe place where she was free from sadness. The horse stepped in to the circle forcing Lisa to step out and confront her feelings.
“I used to be scared of horses but you come to understand they are like us. They have good and bad days and people they like.”
The EAGALA website offers further information about equine therapy website here.
- *Name changed to protect client privacy