The Horse Who Read My Mind

Equine-assisted ADHD therapy forced me to align my actions with my intentions and to exude the calm confidence I asked for in return. Horses, I learned, mirror what they see in our hearts and feel in our heads.

How EAP Helped Me

I took the plunge in an EAP workshop for women. We were paired up and told to halter a horse and lead it to a certain area. No problem, I thought, having worked with horses before. Then the counselor said, "You're not allowed to talk." I panicked.

First, I was in an unfamiliar setting. Second, I was working with someone I didn't know. Third, I couldn't talk. I suddenly realized how much I depended on words, and how I was lost without my voice. On the other hand, since childhood, my words had gotten me into trouble because I blurted them out.

To succeed in this task, I had to use nonverbal communication. I had to trust someone else to take a leadership role. My stomach clenched, and I began to sweat. I've never forgotten that lesson, and the glimpse it gave into my life with ADHD. Suzi Landolphi, a certified EAP therapist, at Big Heart Ranch, in Malibu, California, who holds a master's degree in psychology, says that, to work effectively with horses, "your thinking, emotions, and body language have to match. And isn't that what ADD keeps from happening?"

Muellner told me how EAP helped one young adult with severe ADHD. At Hope Ranch, the horses are allowed to come and go. While working one-on-one with the client, Muellner noticed that "some days we'd walk into the barn and [the horses] would just hang there. We'd go out another day, and they'd be gone." Muellner says that the horses bolted because they felt anxious around her tense client, and that he learned to quiet his mind before entering the barn.

Katherine, whose daughter Sarah was diagnosed with ADHD at age 12, found that EAP helped bring about many positive changes for her daughter. Sarah was going to junior high when she was referred to EAP. "Sarah had a lot of challenges," says Katherine. "She was rebellious, her grades were taking a dive, and she had social problems."

Sarah was assigned to a group of seven girls who attended daylong sessions every day for a week. Each girl was assigned a horse and a counselor. Like many participants, Sarah had never been around horses. Prior to therapy, says Katherine, "Sarah's shyness and aloof behavior had put other girls off, and she couldn't make friends." As Katherine watched her daughter during one session, she was impressed with Sarah’s kindness and her compassion toward another girl who was struggling in the group.

"She also displayed respect toward [the therapist] and the other counselors at a time when she wasn't very respectful of adults," says Katherine. "I saw a different child, as did Sarah's teachers." Best of all, many of these changes stuck with her long after she stopped doing EAP.

Names have been changed.

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