Equine Assisted Learning( EAL) is a form of animal assisted treatment that acknowledges and encourages the emotional bond between horses and people.  EAL has been used as a treatment option for helping those with a multitude of disorders and disabilities, including those with eating disorders, and has been found to be an effective healing tool.

While working with the horse, the eating disorder client has the opportunity to connect with the horse in a way that encourages her to be present in the moment, tune into their body and build a trusting relationship with the horse which can lead to self-awareness and a path toward emotional healing. Today, many professionals in the eating disorder treatment arena recognize the benefits of EAL , as well as EAP ( Equine Assisted Psychotherapy ) as a method of assisting recovery and improving future outcomes.

The unique bond that evolves between client and horse involves respect, responsibility, communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal, assertiveness, affection, empathy, confidence, self-control, acceptance and mutual trust.  These are all social and emotional areas that those with eating disorders have difficulties navigating through in a healthy manner, often due to past dysfunctional relationships, trauma or abuse.

Caring for and nurturing a horse is an empowering experience that increases confidence and assertiveness while also filling the need for acceptance, closeness and affection that we all desire, but that is often heightened in the emotional needs of a patient with an eating disorder.  In order to work effectively with a horse, one must have confidence and be assertive in their directions to the horse so that the horse understands clearly the request.  Working with a horse is also a lesson in demonstrating mutual respect, affection and acceptance without judgment. These are skills that are often severely skewed in most clients and can be strengthened by equine therapy work.

On its most basic level, EAL offers the kind of unconditional acceptance that many with eating disorders long for.  If you are kind, loving and respectful to the horse, the horse is kind, loving and respectful in return.  Horses will not judge a person based physical attributes, size, weight, socioeconomic status or any other esoteric trait.  This unconditional acceptance can be a very powerful step in the recovery process.

In addition, horses are very sensitive and intuitive animals and they mirror the emotions we display with our body language.  This can be a very helpful tool for helping the eating disorder patient become aware of how they may present themselves, what kind of energy they radiate, and how this can affect how they are perceived by others.

The horse is a Master Teacher of unconditional love and acceptance.  Equine Assisted Learning is an important and effective tool in treating eating disorders, and it has the potential to encourage a path towards recovery in a way that other treatment methods may not as readily facilitate.

What Horses Taught Me About Recovery by Treena Hall

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