Equine Guided Therapy

Equine Guided Therapy, (EGT) is a valuable alternative to traditional office-based “talk therapy” where clients interact with a treatment team consisting of a Certified Mental Health professional, a Certified Equine specialist and one or more horses. EGT incorporates a range of counselling, experiential learning and personal development approaches. Being with these powerful beings tends to amplify our emotions and quickly accesses what is needing to be transformed in order for the client to meet their goals .  Hands on activities and interactions with the horse are designed by the team around the client’s goals and may include greeting, haltering, leading and grooming the horse as well as leading the horse through obstacle courses or activities in the arena or round pen. Sessions can also be more reflective where the focus is more about how the client feels in the presence of the horse.  All interactions take place on the ground. There is usually no riding involved and no horse experience is necessary.  Clients can see Gillian exclusively for EGT or incorporate some EGT sessions into regular counselling as a way of moving things forward in an experiential way.

Equine Guided EMDR

How do horses help?

As prey animals, a horse’s primary concern is to feel safe. Because of this horses have a highly developed sense of their environment as well as the emotional state of other herd members. This includes humans when we interact with them. Horses instantly assess how we are actually feeling rather than what we think we should be feeling and bring our deeper concerns to our awareness by providing non-judgemental feedback through their body language and behaviour. EGT has been shown to speed up the therapeutic process due to its hands on, concrete and experiential learning approach. Being in the presence of a horse tends to sharpen our focus and engages all of our senses. The learning that occurs is experienced as well as talked about and tends to be more powerful and enduring for the client. There is nothing more empowering than influencing a beautiful and powerful 1000lb animal to cooperate with our wishes!

What does a session look like?

A typical session is an hour in length, beginning with a check in and a discussion with the team about the goals or wishes for the session. Safety around horses and barn ground rules are reviewed. A guided relaxation/grounding exercise happens before any interaction with the horse/s to help access our “horse sense”. The chosen activity takes place and the role of the Equine Specialist is to facilitate this while the Mental Health Professional draws out the therapeutic learning and reflects this back to the client. The session ends with time to reflect on the take home messages including ideas on how the client can apply the new learning in their lives and relationships.

What is Equine Assisted EMDR” (EAEMDR) ?

EAEMDR is an emerging field of counselling that combines the powerful process of EMDR with Equine Assisted Counselling using a protocol called “Equilateral” which has been approved by the EMDR International Association, (EMDRIA).

Horses can be incorporated into each of the 8 phases of EMDR. Clients who have difficulty recounting their trauma history without becoming flooded or dissociative have found that they are able to tell the story in the accepting and grounding presence of the horse. Horses can be invaluable in helping clients develop grounding, relaxation resources as well as facilitating feelings of mastery and positive self-esteem in the preparation phase. There are multiple ways a horse can help with the re-processing phase of EMDR, including having the client lean their hands into the horse while the therapist does tactile dual attention, for example, tapping hands on the client’s shoulders, walking intentionally with the horse feeling the bi-lateral movement, being mounted on the horse and feeling the bi-lateral movement of a moving horse and of course traditional eye-movements while the horse is close by for support.

Horses are masters at moving quickly through the stress response back to a calm state so being with them offers many opportunities to learn how to do this. Unlike humans they do not have a highly developed cerebral cortex and therefore do not judge themselves or us as being bad or crazy when we become triggered into fight, flight, freeze. Instead horses use everything as information to help them determine when they are safe and when they need to be cautious and when they need to protect themselves. They can teach us to get our alarm systems back into balance and be free of the devastating effects of PTSD. They can support us through each phase of EMDR treatment even as far as celebrating with us when we become re-connected to ourselves and our lives and relationships.

Video Introducing EquiLateral: The Equine-Assisted EMDR Protocol, developed by Sarah Jenkins LPC, an EMDR consultant and Equine-Assisted Psychotherapist who Gillian trained with to become the first person in Canada certified in the EquiLateral Protocol.

What should I bring?

Sessions take place outdoors or in the covered arena so clients should dress for the weather of the season. Boots are advisable in the winter months. No open toe shoes are permitted at the barn. Helmets are mandatory and are provided. A journal and pens are a good idea to record the experience. The horses always enjoy a treat like a carrot or apple after the session.

Who is the treatment team?

Valley Therapeutic Equestrian Association has a team of 15 horses who come from a variety of backgrounds. The horses are selected to work primarily with disabled riders so are required to be gentle, predictable and calm. In an EGT session the horses are treated as sentient partners and co-facilitators and are treated with equal respect and dignity.

Gillian Ashley-Martz is a Registered Social Worker, Registered Clinical Counsellor and Certified EMDR trauma specialist. Gillian has been practicing counselling for over 20 years and has trained with leaders in the fields of trauma and PTSD, couple and family therapy, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and Equine Guided Therapy and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Julie Matijiw is the head instructor at VTEA and has been involved showing and training horses for most of her life and the last 14 years has been a CANTRA II therapeutic riding instructor. Talented in all areas of horsemanship, Julie’s particular gift is understanding the non-verbal communication between horse and human. Julie has achieved Level 5 Equine Canada status and has her own Equine Massage practice.

What is EMDR? >>
Transform Trauma into Trust

Gillian Ashley-Martz can help transform your trauma into trust through Equine Assisted EMDR (EAEMDR). EAEMDR is an emerging field of EMDR recently approved by the International Association of EMDR, (EMDRIA). Gillian is the first EMDR practitioner in Canada to be trained in this new protocol which combines the principles and practices of Equine Guided Therapy with the 8 phases of EMDR therapy.