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Horse Therapy for Alcoholics - EAP as Addiction Treatment

Updated on September 26, 2011
Photo: Pixel Addict (Flickr)
Photo: Pixel Addict (Flickr)

Horses as Therapists

Horses just don't lie – and if you understand the messages they send, they can teach you a lot about yourself.

Equine assisted therapy, or EAP, takes therapy out of the psychologist, or therapist's office, and into the barn for a completely unique non verbal experience – no horse riding required. EAP has been used to assist in emotional and behavioral growth with developmentally and behaviorally delayed children for years, and it is becoming more common in the field of addiction treatment, for adults and youths, as well.

What is EAP?

Horses are herd and prey animals, well attuned to the emotions of those around them. For them, it's a survival mechanism, and so for a therapist trained in reading equine behaviors, it's a reliably telling source of information.

How it works is, a patient is asked to interact with a horse in a barn, and a therapist observes the interaction. After the interaction, the therapist will discuss with the patient what the horse's reaction indicates about the patient.

For example

The client may be asked to walk, halter or groom the horse, with the therapist observing.

Although we are very good at hiding our true feelings, we can't hide them from horses. So if you are very angry, even though you may swear in a group therapy session that you're fine, a horse knows you're angry. Your anger will frighten or unsettle it, and it will move away from you – and the therapist will see your anger shown in the horse's reaction to you.

If you have personal space or boundary issues, a horse will know, and in the way it moves in your personal space, so will a therapist.

After a session interacting with the horse, the therapist and the patient will sit down together and talk about what happened, and what the horse's reaction indicates about the patient.

Non Verbal

EAP is powerful as an experiential therapy. You may have trouble listening to a therapist tell you what your problem is – but you may have more trouble denying it when a horse demonstrates that same message.

Some people just don't respond well to the traditional clinical modality of discussing problems in a therapist's office. For these people, an alternative and experiential therapy can be far more powerful, and especially when combined with other more conventional types of therapy, deliver quick results.

It's Fun

You can't deny the power and majesty of a horse, and working with these big powerful and insightful creatures is always a moving experience. Most people that get involved in EAP come to very much enjoy an alternative mode of therapy that gets them out of the hospital, and into the fresh air and sunshine for a real life interaction with a horse.

It's also a confidence booster for many. It takes courage to move closely and groom or halter an enormous animal – on your own, and learning to overcome your own apprehensions to perform a task can be a rewarding and therapeutic experience in itself.

In a Drug Rehab or Emotional Growth Boarding School

EAP is becoming more widely seen as a complimentary therapy in drug rehabs and emotional growth boarding schools. Everyone enjoys it, and for some patients, patients who may have spent years or decades in therapy, it provides some quick results in a very novel setting.

For most people, it's worth a try. And almost everyone enjoys this healing experience.

Photo: Solarpluvia (flickr)
Photo: Solarpluvia (flickr)

Watch EAP used for kids with emotional problems


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    • profile image

      alcohol addiction treatment 

      9 years ago

      this blog is informative

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Where can I find a program like this? I have a relative who needs this but am having trouble finding a facility or program.

    • donotfear profile image

      Annette Thomas 

      10 years ago from Northeast Texas


    • dana825 profile image


      12 years ago from Chicago

      EAP is also highly affective with eating disorder and OCD patients; two groups of people who tend to be very manipulative. I love EAP because you get to watch your patients as they handle the activities and you can see a change in affect along with catching any lies they might tell you about how they generally solve their problems. I am working towards this profession and right now I think the affect a horse can have on a person is more than any therapist... that's how it was for me. I needed both my therapist and my baby boy (he's a horse) to get out of my depression and we're still working with the OCD. But another thing is that it is IMPOSSIBLE to disappoint a horse. You can make them jealous, angry, and many other emotions but they aren't disappointed by a relapse which makes them so great to work with eating disorder and drug addicted patients.

    • recovering addict profile imageAUTHOR

      recovering addict 

      12 years ago

      Hi G-Ma Johson,

      I hope that it helps her, and it sounds like she has tried a lot of things that didn't and so maybe she needs to try a few new things. There is a definate power to the interaction between human and horse.

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 

      12 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      wow ....I am gonna tell my sister about this...and she is now moving to the country where this may be more available to her. she has been in rehab..5 times now over the last 25 years...Thanks . I will check further into it so I can explain it,,,she doesn't own a computer. Good job and hoping you are doing well...

      G-Ma :o) hugs


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