Equine-Facilitated Human Development (EFHD) is the art of the horse-human heart.
It is not therapy; it is a bit like coaching or teaching, but much more supportive and empathetic, an activity whose speed and direction are determined by the client, and which takes place in partnership with the horse. It is unlike anything else, and, with many people pioneering approaches in this area, there is much discussion about what it is exactly. So let’s break it down:
Equine – horse, the most sensitive and intelligent of domestic animals
Facilitated – made easier, made possible, made smoother
Human development – the expansion of the richness of one’s life; thriving and growing as a human being
The focus of an EFHD activity shifts depending on the situation and the client’s needs. It may be about gaining life skills, enhancing leadership ability, learning natural horsemanship, or about deep-down personal development. Sessions consist of a mix of experiential, educational and creative activities, with the horse as the main reference. Guiding the client through the process is not something that can be ‘winged’ or improvised (although many try). Whatever mysterious thing happens between the human and the horse, can touch the deeply buried, but very much alive, wires of trauma. Knowing how to act safely in such cases is key to preventing potential distress to clients, therefore adequate preparation is essential. An EFHD facilitator must also have above-average horse skills in order to read the behavior of the horse correctly, thereby keeping both the horse and the client safe. She or he need not be a licensed therapist or psychologist.
The positive, therapeutic effects of large and small pets on humans have been observed for centuries. The size and power of horses, as compared to cats and dogs, make them significantly more imposing, and therefore, their impact on human perceptions and experience is greater. Horse-assisted or -facilitated therapeutic work originated in the second half of 20th century, in several places at once, first in Germany and later in the USA. Therapists and other professionals, who were also passionate horse(wo)men, noticed that horses had a remarkable therapeutic effect on the psychological state of clients undergoing physiotherapy, or those who came in contact with horses for other reasons.
In the USA, Linda Kohanov, Barbara Rector, and Kathleen Barry Ingram on one hand, and Adele, Thomas and Marlena McCormick on the other, are credited with laying down the foundations of the relatively new discipline of EFHD. Linda Kohanov’s seminal book “Tao of Equus” created a large following of people passionate about the subject. She and several collaborators developed the Epona approach, with the idea that it support the personal development and learning of anyone, including groups of people. The McCormick sisters, psychotherapists, pioneered equine-assisted work with highly dysfunctional clients, and with time grew to incorporate spirituality in their practice. The UK-based International Foundation for Equine-Assisted Learning has taken elements of these somewhat esoteric approaches further, formulating a standardized methodology, the application of which can be objectively analyzed and evaluated.
Learn more about equine-facilitated human development:
- Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International A definition of equine-assisted learning
- Sacred Space of Possibility, by Kathleen Barry Ingram
- Strides to Success Easy to read description of equine-facilitated learning
What equine-facilitated human development is not:
- Equine-Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) Definition of Equine-assisted psychotherapy and equine-assisted learning
- Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy in Clinical Practice, by Angela Masini, Ph.D.
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