“I have been to so many therapists over the years. Nothing ever worked. The horses have a way to put it right into your face—it’s intense, but it works for me.” Sara
The Eagala Model is a framework of standards and skill sets. Believing the best solutions come from within, the Eagala Model allows clients the latitude to discover, learn, and grow from the unique qualities of the horse-human relationship. Eagala offers innovative approaches to solving difficult issues.
An Eagala treatment team consists of Eagala Certified professionals including a licensed Mental Health Professional and a qualified Equine Specialist, along with the horses who work with the client. When they are in an Eagala session, they are in an emotionally safe space to experience the presence of the horses as it relates to their specific and unique challenges. The client is guided to listen to their own inner thoughts and feelings while connecting and reflecting on what is happening in the arena.
This innovative approach to holding space, without judgment and interpretation, frees you to discover your own lasting solutions. The Eagala Model involves no riding and is ground-based. It does not require clients to have any previous experience with horses. This creates an emotionally and physically safe environment and enhances the accessibility of the treatment, as the horses and clients are each unencumbered and free to interact. It requires nothing of the horse except to be a horse, and nothing of the client except to be present to their experience.
To illustrate, here is a powerful story of a woman who hid from herself the one thing that would set her free, for 30 years -- until the horses in her Eagala sessions brought it all out into the light to be transformed.
A year and a half ago, a woman (we’ll call her Kathy) began coming for Eagala sessions to work on her anxiety and to build her self-esteem. Kathy is an educated and successful corporate- executive who had been struggling with past experiences when she was verbally and emotionally abused by her ex-husband.
Session after session she showed up in all types of weather to work on her anxiety. Within the first few weeks of her starting, we began to see a pattern of the horses drinking water during her sessions. She said “I have never had any problems with alcohol though my ex would tell me I did.”
The following week the horses were again drinking. Again, Kathy told us how her ex would accuse her of having a drinking problem, and she would go into how she lost a number of babies from miscarriages but never drank. She would share how her ex would blame her. At the time, we weren’t sure what was happening, but we knew the horses were trying to tell us something.
As sessions passed, a new pattern began to emerge. From the moment Kathy stepped into the pasture, the horses began pawing the ground uncovering hay. We thought it strange since they had plenty of hay on the ground. It was as though they knew something not apparent to us.
So, we simply asked, “Kathy…it’s interesting…over the last few sessions, there has been this digging or pawing.”
Kathy stopped us and nodded, “Yeah! It’s like they’re uncovering food and…” Her voice faded, and we could tell in that moment something was happening inside for her.
Again, she brought up how her ex-husband would blame her for drinking too much and, again, share how she was, “Never a big drinker!” Because of the horses behaviour, we kept silent to allow her to discover within herself the meaning, believing more was going on and she would share when ready.
Two days after this session, we received an email from Kathy.
She began to share how she has been struggling with an eating disorder since she was in high school and has been able to cover it up for over 30 years! She shared how when she was married to her first husband, she was told she had to be a certain size and could not gain weight or, “He would not touch me.”
She wrote that he would blame her for having a glass of wine, so, “I began to use that as a way to cover up my eating disorder.” She continued, “As long as I kept the focus on drinking, I could continue using diet pills, throwing up, or doing whatever I needed to do and no one would notice.”
The following session when Kathy arrived, she was in tears. She shared how when she first started coming to Acres for Life she never thought this would have come out.
She exclaimed, “The horses did it! I can’t believe it! They kept digging and digging, and they uncovered all of my issues with food.”
Since that moment, Kathy has been able to step into her healing journey more deeply. She has been able to let this wall down that has hidden so many secrets, and for the first time in years begin to be free from the self-hatred she has carried with her.
Today, because the darkness of her disorder was uncovered, her anxiety is dissipating and her love for self is growing.
The Eagala Model is client-centered and solution-oriented. When facilitated by the professional treatment team, working with the horses allows you to receive unbiased feedback into reasons why you respond the way you do, in ways that maybe you haven’t realized. Horses help people identify their feelings, and have a special ability to help them work through emotional barriers without shame or stigma. Working with horses helps to illuminate behaviors and emotions in a way that traditional talk therapy cannot.
By nature, horses do not judge or interpret. This allows clients to work through their life struggles in a gentle and emotionally safe way, without any feeling of judgment or interpretation by another person. Understanding where their struggles come from, and what to do with them, becomes easier. With this knowledge, you draw on new resources of strength, learn how to safely experience your emotions, and develop new ways of being. People bounce back more quickly and with less stress.
Judy is an Iraq War veteran with a family history of silence and secrets and a bucket-load of resentment walked onto the yard, setting off a stampede of kicking, biting horses. Instead of being alarmed, she was delighted by the transparency. But she deduced that this could well be the impact that she was having on others, and she expressed her desire to find more peace and balance in her life. She built a 2-foot high wall of junk (including some manure for good measure) to represent her desire for acceptance, and chose a high-strung thoroughbred mare to walk through the pile with her. It would take many attempts, and, finally, a request for help, before she reached her goal.
A soldier points across the pasture at a large, black horse standing with his mouth open and says, “That's me... I'm trying to get the pain out but it just won't come.”
A white and brown horse approaches a sailor and pushes his head into the sailor’s chest and he says, “He's telling me it's time to move on.”
The Eagala Model can assist in a number of mental health and personal development goals including anxiousness, low moods, depression, trauma/PTSD, addictions, communication, relationships, overcoming fears and blocks, bereavement/loss, cohesion, low self-esteem and much more. With research indicating significant positive outcomes in areas such as emotional and behavioural regulation, psychological well-being and problem solving abilities.
A non-traditional team approach which has been scientifically proven to work. Eagala serves a worldwide community of certified professionals and provides a comprehensive certification process and member support network. In addition, there is a growing body of peer-reviewed evidence which supports Eagala’s quality of practice, outcomes, and efficacy.
An Alcoholic’s Story from the pasture
As with others at the Union Gospel Mission, John headed out to the Chicago City pasture with apprehension. He hadn’t been around horses. He’d been struggling to stay sober. He’d had trouble with his girlfriend and he wasn’t sure this “horse stuff” had any merit.
John was assigned a horse to interact with and find solutions to different goals with. His horse was a red mare. His girlfriend had had red hair.
John and the horse worked through some issues during 9 treatment sessions – insights that he shared with the psychotherapist and the equine therapist observing the horse’s interactions with him. John began to heal more deeply in that pasture.
His girlfriend wasn’t the only issue in his life, or even the linchpin to all the others, but his success in recognizing the impact he’d had on her and she on him became a bridge.
Acres for Life offered John more healing, a first step on the road to dealing with his alcohol addiction outside the inner city, outside the comfort zone of the Mission’s Recovery Center, outside his normal routine and beyond narrow expectations so that he could change – for the long haul.
With over twenty years in the field, the Eagala Model is tested and subject to ongoing study and development, with a growing body of peer-reviewed evidence supporting its quality of practice, outcomes, and effectiveness. Numerous studies have shown evidence that supports incorporating horses to benefit you, whether in personal development or addressing psychological struggles.
Clients can attend either individually, groups or families, and can also be self-referred by authorities and referral agencies across the world.
If you would like more information on how you can make a big impact in the world as an Eagala Certified team member, download our complimentary ebook at Eagalaequinecareer.com
Images credited to: http://www.richardmeadephotography.com/