In my previous article I clarified terms used in Equine Assisted Therapy/ Learning and the credentials required by those who offer programs. Some programs require an equine specialist [ES] who needs an in-depth knowledge of horse behavior, body language, and psychology. When we bring animals into therapy/learning sessions, we are incorporating them for the benefit of our clients.  They are not a tool, rather they are sentient living beings and part of a team. For horses to participate in this unique experiential experience we need to understand and advocate for their needs.

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) provides guidelines, referred to as the Five Freedoms for the ethical care of horses involved in EAT. Freedom from:

1.Hunger and Thirst- provide fresh water and feed.

  1. Discomfort- providing appropriate space, shelter.
  2. Pain, Injury, or Disease- appropriate veterinary care; hygiene of animals and property.
  3. Fear and Distress- providing a stimulating and safe environment, humane handling; and,
  4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour-turn out, companionship.

Can a horse experience stress during an EAT/L session?  Yes, and for this reason the ES needs to recognize changes in the horses’ behaviour and be watchful for both human and horses’ emotional and physical safety.  Be aware of how often you schedule a horse.  When a session is finished, return horses to a paddock where they can roll, play, shake it off – be a horse.

Providers of EAT/L have an ethical responsibility to ensure the welfare of their equine partners.

Anne Porteous, owner of Sierra Acres Equine Assisted Learning Program can be contacted on Facebook, or For more information about services go to

The use of metaphors in Equine Assisted Learning [EAL] can provide opportunities for effecting positive change in a client’s daily life.  A metaphor can be understood as one thing conceived as representing another. Some examples that I have experienced with clients are: “this horse won’t behave, reminds me of one of my friends”; a barrel laid down on its side represented a CT scanner for someone recovering from cancer. While one of my horses stood in the round pen, my client’s thoughts were of a manager standing in his office.  A multicolored parachute represented a client’s oasis.  These are non-directive metaphors which the client creates.

Metaphors assist me to understand how clients are experiencing their world and help to raise their awareness. Using metaphors allows clients to provide a visual of their story safely and in a non-judgemental environment.  As facilitator of this process, my role is to help clients use their metaphors and symbols for self-discovery and self-development-to start untangling obstacles that are holding them back. Directive metaphors are useful during professional development sessions. For example, during team building, I may ask “if teamwork is required to move this horse over an obstacle, then how will you “team” with others at work to solve issues?

Metaphors can be a powerful catalyst for effecting change in aspects of a client’s life- it is about transferrable learning from the horses to life beyond.

“Horses are a perfect metaphor for life: there are no guarantees and virtually no limits.” – Jane Savoie.

Anne Porteous, owner of Sierra Acres Equine Assisted Learning Program can be contacted on Facebook, or For more information about services go to


Adele’s story

Adele walked into my arena to find Xena and Molly standing, looking towards her.  Adele looked at me and said, “It’s been a tough week”.  “I’m sorry to hear that Adele, please tell me more.”  Adele was having issues with some of her neighbors.  She lived in an apartment building, and periodically during our Equine Assisted Learning [EAL] sessions, she expressed some frustrations that she experienced with other tenants and the Landlord.  From past experiences with Adele, I knew she liked to be creative and use props in my arena to build what she was feeling or thinking.  And similarly, today this is what she wanted to do.

Props can be used to create metaphors.  Essentially a metaphor can be understood as one thing conceived as representing another.  Metaphors can be a powerful catalyst for effecting change in aspects of a client’s life outside the arena.  My intent is always to have an individual connect learning done through metaphors in the arena to other areas of life outside the arena.

Adele chose 5 small pylons, 3 medium sized pylons placing them all in a row.  Next, she chose 2 exceptionally large pylons placing them approximately 8 feet apart and lined up with the smaller pylons.  On top of one of the large pylons she placed a stuffed toy, a red horse.  While Adele was busy picking out her props and arranging in a straight line, Xena and Molly continued to calmly watch from a distance.

As much as possible during EAL sessions, horses are not haltered and free to wonder where they please. Xena and Molly are percherons.  I affectionately call them my ‘big girls’ because percherons are large draft horses.  Adele identified a kinship with Molly at her first session.  She thought Molly had a truly kind spirit and was comfortable “in her skin” the way Adele wanted to be.

Adele stepped back from her creation and I approached her so she could tell me what the pylons, and stuffed animal represented.  The first 5 small pylons represented her attempts to “make things better with others”; 3 medium pylons Adele described represented her gaining confidence.  Next was the one large pylon with the red horse.  She told me that this represented her, red is the color of love, and she “loved horses”.   The last large pylon she shared was one individual but felt she was getting stronger at handling the situation with him.

While Adele was speaking with me, I noticed Molly walking slowly towards the pylons.  She sniffed at the 3 ‘confidence’ pylons, and one by one picked them up in her mouth and through away.  Next, she went to the 5 small pylons, and one by one kicked them out of the way.  While this was happening, Xena approached the large pylon with the red horse, and knocked it over.  This was not normal behaviour for either of these horses so I was curious what Adele might be thinking.  “What’s going on here, Adele?”.  She looked down at the ground, scuffed some sand around and then said, “your horses just trashed my course”.  “I wonder why they would do that?” I asked.  After more kicking in the sand, Adele answered “because they know it’s not the way I feel; I’m really afraid of this person”.   Silence.  Horses did not move, Adele did not move, and I waited.   The relationship between this person and Adele was problematic.  She would become angry at what he said, and basically, they fed off each other.  She really had not made “attempts to make things better” she really wasn’t “gaining confidence”.  I asked if she could create how she really did feel.

Adele put the small and medium pylons away; she put the large pylon with the red horse away.  What was left was the one large pylon representing the individual and in front of it she placed a small pylon – this represented her.  To my eyes, this was so powerful.  This person, who I will admit I was thinking of as a bit of a bully, was this large pylon, and Adele was a little pylon.  This visual was powerful not only to me but for Adele.  During this time, the horses had moved further back in the arena and never moved forward to knock it down as they have previously.  This image was how she truly felt!

This metaphor Adele created now allowed me to set up the rest of the session.  As mentioned, Adele had a strong bond with Molly.  And I asked, “if Molly is you Adele, then who might Xena be?”   She answered, “this other person”.

The remainder of this session was focused on Adele learning about her boundaries, her body language, and how to be assertive without aggression.  Molly stood near Adele, holding space, while Adele took charge of Xena, becoming her leader.

Clients are not always able to find the words.  Using metaphors allowed Adele to provide a visual of her story safely and in a non-judgemental environment.  As facilitator of this process, my role is to help clients use their metaphors and symbols for self-discovery and self-development.  I am grateful to be able to help people in their journeys and allow them to start untangling obstacles that are holding them back from being the best version of themselves possible.


By Kimberley Fowler

The intuitive powers of equine animals offer healing and comfort

You’ll find most horses and donkeys on a ranch or a farm, but it’s possible that you may also see them visiting nursing homes, senior living communities and even schools. As the benefits of equine therapy are becoming more widely known, more people are requesting an on-site visit or making the trip to a local equine therapy center.

Read full article on Nextavenue >>


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