A Jump Forward in Lasting Recovery

Addicts often struggle with trust, boundaries and confidence.

Horses require them to step up in these areas.

Horses are providing the jump forward that many addicts need to achieve lasting recovery. The Refuge for Women, a 90-day residential program for women in recovery, has experienced this firsthand as it has been integrating equine therapy into its program for more than two years.

“Equine therapy is a huge asset to the program,” says Executive Director Nancy Robertson. “Many of our women suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder along with battling addiction. Therapist Kari Whatley at Equine Therapy Group has developed a six-week equine-assisted recovery program specifically designed to meet the needs of those struggling with addiction. Through working with horses, women begin building trust, gaining confidence, recognizing triggers and working on obstacles that have prevented them from achieving success. Our women gain valuable experiences that are helping them maintain sobriety.”

Equine therapy is different than traditional therapy because instead of solely relying on talking about their issues, clients get feedback in real time from the horses. Whatley, who is certified by the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (Eagala) recommends the Eagala model of equine-assisted therapy, where an equine specialist and mental health professional are both present in the session. This allows the participants to get excellent support and the feedback needed to grow. Horses help addicts have a new perspective on recovery.

“Horses are extremely aware of their environment,” Whatley says. “They can read people like a book. What makes equine therapy so special is that clients get to see in a real way how their actions affect another living being — the horse — and themselves. How you interact with the horse is usually how you interact with everything else in your world. This enables us to find patterns that the person might not be aware of. Addicts often struggle with trust, boundaries and confidence. The horses require you to step up in these areas.”

For Amber, a graduate of the Refuge for Women, equine therapy was vital to her recovery. “Recovery is like a puzzle, and you need many pieces to make the whole puzzle work,” she says. “Equine therapy has been the piece needed for my recovery puzzle to be complete. It gives me a visual representation of what I am working through in my life. I can see in front of me the things I’ve said that I’m going to do and if I’m really doing them. The horses take everything I do at face value. They don’t assume anything about me, and they are always in the present moment. So, for me, that was really bene-ficial and freeing.”

Sarah, a current resident at Refuge for Women, echoes the sentiment: “The horse is not waiting for me to fail. I feel like I can really try new things without fear of disappointing someone — or myself.”

Equine therapy sessions focus on different topics that create metaphors about the client’s real life.

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