Why Equine Facilitated Therapy works
The part of the brain that is “shut down” when a person experiences trauma is the limbic section. That is the part of the brain that governs emotion, therefore, affecting relationships. When a person is traumatized, the limbic brain puts them into a constant state of “hyper-vigilance.” When we are in that state, it is not possible to form a relationship. Therapists cannot access the limbic part of the brain merely talking to it, assuring the traumatized person returning home from the war, for example, that everything is fine is not effective. The more effective way to access it is through experiential learning.
Horses’ brains are almost exclusively limbic. And, being a prey animal, they absolutely MUST be in relationship with those they live with (horses in their herd and/or people in their lives) for survival. They are in constant search of relationship. It is very difficult for the client to trust people when they have been betrayed by a person, but they will trust a horse. When they are together, they regulate each other’s behavior and their own. That ability to regulate behavior and to open up the channels of relationship then transfers over to relationships with the people in their lives.
Pamelyn M. MacDonald
The Effectiveness of Equine-Facilitated Therapy with At-Risk Adolescents: A Summary of Empirical Research Across Multiple Centers and Programs
For those interested in the field of equine therapy, finding resources can be challenging. PsychCentral has compiled an extensive reading list.