At Oxbow Academy, every experiential activity is designed to enhance our clinical program. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy or EAP, is just such an activity. Students learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with horses. Then they process, or discuss, the experience and their thoughts, beliefs, behaviors and patterns with staff and therapists.
EAP is not learning to ride or even how to handle a horse. It consists of a variety of activities performed while the student is near the horse but not astride. All Oxbow students are required to participate in equine experiential therapy.
Horses provide a natural opportunity for some of our students to overcome fear and develop confidence. The size and power of the horse are naturally intimidating to many people. Accomplishing a task involving a horse, in spite of fear, creates confidence. It also makes for wonderful metaphors when dealing with other intimidating and challenging life situations.
In some ways, horses are very similar to humans. They have defined roles within the herd and they have distinct personalities, attitudes and moods. What works with one horse might not work with another. At times, they may seem stubborn and defiant. They like to have fun. Students soon realize they have a lot in common with the horses. Recognizing these parallels is very effective therapeutic technique.
Horses are sensitive to non-verbal communication and respond to whatever messages the individual/group send at any given moment. These responses give the individual and the treatment team instant feedback. That information helps make the student aware of his current behavior patterns and motivates change to develop new ones.
Our horses know their job and do it very well. They have proven reliable indicators of tension between boys or issues in residential living. While there is always a specific therapeutic goal for each equine activity, we often find ourselves changing plans based on feedback from our four-legged colleagues.
Imprinting is a special component of our equine experiential. Every year we have at least one foal born. When possible, we try to give our students the opportunity of seeing the foal’s birth. Within about 24 hours after the baby’s birth, our students have the opportunity to touch and rub the tiny horse. Ears, nose, feet, belly are all rubbed or stroked to help the horse become unafraid of people and the kind of handling it will experience later in life. Through this experiential activity, students see the importance of families, the effects of positive versus negative touch, trust and relationships.
Paint the Pony
Every autumn Oxbow students participate in a unique experiential called Paint the Pony. This activity involves poster paints, live horses, and the opportunity for students to express their story through symbols.
Oxbow’s equine team teaches the boys common symbols created by Native American warriors. Tribes would often decorate their ponies with these symbols prior to important hunts or battles.
Using that model, Oxbow students develop their own symbols of important events in their lives. Once they have created and explained their symbols, each student is given the opportunity to paint his story on a live horse. The symbols represent events from the student’s past as well as his hopes for the future.
This experiential activity helps students reflect on their choices and their goals and be able to express them outwardly. The horse as a living canvas reminds them of understanding they have gained in other equine activities.
If you would prefer to discuss your situation with a counselor, we invite you to call Erin Nester, our admissions counselor, at (435) 469-0683.
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