millie's first hoursWhat are Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning?

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) incorporates horses experientially for emotional growth and learning.  It is a collaborative effort between a mental professional and a horse professional working with the clients and horses to address treatment goals.  Equine Assisted Learning, (EAL) is similar but its focus is on learning various types of skills, primarily human relations oriented. EAL can be effective in families, groups, organizations and general skills development.   These are fast-growing disciplines in the equine industry.  At Little River Ranch, LLC we provide EAP & EAL services combining standards of professionalism and safety for our clients, as well as others working in those disciplines.

The focus in EAP and EAL services is not riding or horsemanship it involves setting up ground activities using horses that allows individuals or groups to experientially apply certain skills, (Skills learning, building and sharpening). Such experiential learning enables people, with support of the professional team, to discover what is not working and what options for change can be applied.  In group activities, (family, organizations, teams), people learn about themselves and others through participation with the horses and engaging post activities discussions regarding feelings, behaviors and interpersonal patterns.

For hundreds of years the horse and rider have created a dynamic team, a powerful duo that communicates non-verbally, sensually, almost invisibly. The dynamics of thinking, breathing, and reactionary animals heightens situations, creating constantly changing and evolving experiences. At Little River Ranch, LLC, we realize that the horse acts as a mirror of human emotions, reflecting the feelings of the individual participating in the EAP/EAL services.  All EAP and EAL activities are “ground work” based.  Not including riding as a part of such activities allows horses to “be horses” in their most natural state.  However, this does not reduce the power of the horse/human dynamics; in fact the dynamics are enhanced.

Horses are critically important partners in the work of both EAP and EAL. A horse’s prey nature and intense sensitivity to subtle changes in their environment make them perfect partners for professionals who teach a wide range of interpersonal, intrapersonal and life skills.  These include communication, boundaries, trust building, self-awareness and enhanced emotional intelligence.  Such skills are critical elements in all aspects of our personal, family and professional experiences.


 Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

Equine assisted psychotherapy (EAP) is an emerging treatment modality that utilizes horse-handling activities to generate powerful therapeutic metaphors that reflect how people relate to themselves and others. With the support of peers and Little River Ranch, LLC’s equine specialists and mental health professionals, participants examine these metaphors to gain insight into their emotions, behaviors, habits, and unconscious reactive ways of relating. As issues arise within the equine setting, individuals experience opportunities to work toward the understanding and management of those issues.

Equine Assisted Learning

Equine assisted learning (EAL) is an effective method for improving teamwork, communication,  problem solving and other intra and inter-personal skills. It provides a natural setting in which to face our emotional challenges as we increase confidence and self-esteem. Equine assisted learning also provides a safe context for addressing emotional blocks and developing new, pro-social ways of relating. Participants often find this part of our program both highly challenging and fun, while therapeutically powerful and often life-changing. The bond formed between our horses and our participants is frequently transformative.

Our equine therapy program is facilitated by a licensed mental health professional and an experienced EAGALA-certified equine specialist. EAGALA is the premier professional association providing education, standards, and support for professionals providing EAP and EAL services.

Licensed Mental Health Professional

The mental health professional member of our EAP/EAL teams are all licensed by the State of Oklahoma in a specific mental health discipline.  The concept that horses might be helpful or healing to people struggling with mental health issues is based on the idea that horses (as domesticated prey animals) are extremely sensitive to changes in the human being (as a predatory creature). Due to their sensitivity, horses react and respond to people differently based upon the person’s emotional state. Since we know that emotional states in human beings also impact our physiology, it only makes sense that horses can smell or sense those changes. The horse acts as a large biofeedback machine, providing the client(s) and the therapist with information regarding the client’s moods and changes within those moods. If a client arrives anxious the horse will act and respond one way. If the client is able to reduce his or her anxiety, the horse’s behavior will also change. This provides a great deal information and skill building opportunities for both the client and the therapist.


Skills development in the areas of human relations and organizational sytems is a critcal part of maintaining effective group functioning.  This is true in families, businesses and other organizations. In an organizational or educational setting, horses and the lifestyle that goes along with maintaining horses, provide opportunities to teach critical life and communication skills. Horses mostly use non-vocal communication and thus are wonderful teachers to help us better understand and learn how our non-verbal communication might be impacting or influencing others in our lives. Horses also demand that we are aware of our surroundings at all times. Emotional and physical safety are equally important aspects of healthy systems. To ensure such safety we have to listen to each other and to the horses. In the work of Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) we have to stay focused and attentive. The care and engagement with horses takes dedication, time, and effort.  People observe and learn a strong work ethic and partnering relationship that frequently transitions back into their daily lives. Additionally, people gain self-esteem and self-confidence while learning how to work with such a large and powerful creature. In all, horses provide us with a way to see our internal emotional landscape and expose our reactive modes of operation. Through the challenges inherent in EAL services peole gain an enhanced awareness of themselves and an appreciation for others, both critical elements to support an enhanced development of intra and inter-personal skills, along with general emtional intelligence.