What is Equine Experiential Learning or Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning?
EEL is an educational model, and at Eponaquest we employ the emotional message chart, the false self/authentic self paradigm, the body scan, the boundary handout and other tools to assist clients in their personal awareness of feeling states, body sensations, boundaries and intrusive destructive thoughts. At Eponaquest we teach individuals, through the Way of the Horse, to take their experiences home and make changes in their lives, if they choose. Our hope is that they can use these tools and experiences to change irrational thoughts and dysfunctional patterns, which have kept them stuck in a survival mentality, and help them move into a thriving place for more creative and productive lives.
Only apprenticeship program graduates who are qualified Mental Health Workers according to the regulations of the state where they will practice will qualify to integrate EEL principles with their therapeutic or counseling approach. However, it is essential to distinguish between EEL and mental health models, particularly the area of Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP). Psychotherapy is a long-term process involving one-on-one therapeutic sessions with a client and the therapist. It requires an intimate connection and at least weekly sessions. We do not teach psychotherapy in Eponaquest EEL/EFEL programs.
What is Eponaquest?
Named after the ancient horse goddess Epona, a symbol of healing, transformation and balance for the Celts, Eponaquest is a collective of educators, counselors, physical therapists and riding instructors exploring the healing potential of horse-human relationships. Founded in 1997 by author, lecturer and horse trainer Linda Kohanov, Eponaquest has received international attention for innovative programs employing horses in the work of human development.
People from across the U.S., and around the world have gained a greater sense of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual balance. Alumni of Eponaquest’s personal development workshops and private sessions include accomplished artists, actors and musicians, counselors, social workers, psychiatrists and physicians, life coaches, body workers, business executives, teachers, riding instructors and military personnel. Survivors of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan War vets, teens with anger management issues, children with attention deficit disorder, and riders with post-traumatic stress disorder have also benefited from Eponaquest’s more intensive equine-facilitated psychotherapy programs.
Through a holistic approach to the equestrian arts, clients explore assertiveness, stress reduction and emotional fitness skills, strenghtening self-esteem and personal empowerment in the process. Consensus-building relationship models teach people how to take the reins of any situation without lapsing into the pitfalls of dominance, alientation, intimidation or victimization. Many programs also employ journaling, mindfulness techniques, expressive arts and music to enhance intuition, multi-sensory awareness and creativity.
“It’s now commonly recognized that only ten percent of human communication is verbal,” Linda observes. “And yet we’ve virtually become mesmerized by words as our social and educational systems teach us to ignore the nonverbal dimension of relationship. How many times have you seen a parent listlessly tell a child to ‘clean your room or else,’ with absolutely no result? How many times have you asked for space in a relationship and had someone become even more invasive? How many times have you seen that the so-called boss isn’t really in charge of a situation, no matter how logical or intimidating he tries to be? Understanding what we’re saying to each other is icing on the cake compared with everything else we’re communicating.”
“Imagine if a supervisor asked us to complete a project with only 10 percent of the information available to us, if our schools were only committed to teaching 10 percent of what we would need to be successful in life. And yet that’s precisely what’s happening as we overemphasize the spoken and written word in business, education and relationship.”
True empowerment, Kohanov emphasizes, involves engaging that “other 90 percent,” that dimension of nonverbal intelligence so grossly underdeveloped in modern society. And horses, she found, are remarkably efficient at drawing attention to the feelings, intentions, and perceptions behind our words.
Through a series of specially designed activities, participants deepen awareness of personal challenges, core feelings and areas of bodily tension that inhibit their ability to reach their true potential. A tremendous boost in self-esteem and confidence comes from learning how to establish boundaries and direct a thousand pound creature through mental focus, presence and clarity of intent. These skills, which can be difficult to teach in a conventional classroom, business coaching, or counseling session, have far ranging applications linked to increased success in personal relationships, career and parenting.
“I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen people quietly ask or tearfully plead for respect, but their body language says ‘Walk all over me,’” she says. “When such a person steps into the arena with a horse for the first time, he or she may try to seduce, bribe, or even guilt-trip the animal into cooperating, but those empty words have the opposite effect. The inability to engage a confident presence through emotionally-centered, empowered body language creates a vacuum that unconsciously invites others to take advantage. The horse either ignores this person or moves him or her around, taking charge of the relationship, just like the person’s employees, spouse, and children are apt to do. Yet as participants are coached in how to set boundaries and motivate the horse, they find that this magnificent animal is just as happy to cooperate, and a real dance of mutual respect and co-creativity begins. All of this happens through interactions that can be thrilling and deeply moving, a powerful way to learn.”
“The true pioneers of the 21st century,” Linda insists, “are those who figure out how to tap the vast resources of nonverbal intelligence. In this respect, horses provide the ultimate shortcut—as they always have. For thousands of years, these sensitive yet powerful beings carried our bodies around the world, allowing us to explore terrain we would have struggled to traverse on foot. But there was something much more profound happening in these interspecies associations. Learning to form effective working partnerships with those horses provided the most elusive yet important education a human leader could acquire—that ‘other 90 percent’ exercised at a wholly nonverbal level. And that ‘other 90 percent’ is precisely what we need to develop, consciously, if we’re serious about finding solutions to the challenges of our complex, now global society.”