The information presented in this section will help you make an informed decision whether to choose mindfulness-based equine assisted therapy (MBEAT®).  First, we will look at mindfulness and equine assisted therapy separately.  Then, we will look at the rational for combining both therapeutic modalities.

Mindfulness-Based Equine Assisted Therapy (MBEAT®) combines Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as well as therapies that place a strong emphasis on mindfulness.  These therapies include Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.   

Mindfulness

Although it has its origin in the Buddhist traditions, mindfulness (also known as meditation) is a secular practice.  It is defined as intentionally paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental manner.  Thus, during a mindfulness practice, a person purposely pays attention to whatever private experience arises in the present moment and meets these experiences with acceptance, kindness, and curiosity instead of reactivity and avoidance.

Mindfulness has received increased attention in the West since the seminal work of Dr. John Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.  His Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program instituted in 1979 has proven to be effective in the treatment of depression and anxiety (Hoffman et al., 2010; Teasdale et al., 2000), PTSD (King et al., 2013; Walser & Westrup, 2007), ADHD (van de Weijer- Bergsma et al., 2012), eating disorder (Kristeller et al., 2006), and  substance abuse (Bowen et al., 2006), to name only a few.

When practicing mindfulness, a person learns to be open and accepting of all internal experiences, even negative and painful ones.  This is in sharp contrast with humans’ typical habit of avoiding negative thoughts, emotions and sensations which paradoxically only makes them worse.  Through mindfulness, one establishes a new, wiser relationship with negative and painful internal experiences and as a result, suffering diminishes significantly.  With practice, a person becomes an objective observer of his/her internal experiences and is able to see them for what they are: thoughts, emotions and sensations that come and go.  The acceptance stance in mindfulness does not mean that one becomes passive and helpless towards one’s struggles.  It is quite the contrary.  Acceptance is empowering.  Once a person willingly takes in negative thoughts, emotions and sensations instead of avoiding them, these negative experiences lose their control, thus opening the door to rich possibilities for change. 

We focus on the scientifically proven mindfulness practices used in the MBSR program.  These include (1) the body scan during which the body is systematically scanned head to toe by paying close attention to all sense perceptions, (2) sitting meditation during which one focuses on one particular object of attention such as the breath, the body as a whole, or sounds from the environment, and (3) light and easy hatha yoga.

Over the last four decades, mindfulness has become one of the most studied topics in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience, medicine, and social work.  We invite you to see for yourself the scope of mindfulness research by visiting the “Mindfulness Research Guide” at www.mindfulexperience.org.


Benefits of Mindfulness

  • Be fully present, here and now
  • Experience unpleasant thoughts and feelings safely
  • Become aware of what one is avoiding
  • Become more connected to oneself, to others, and to the world
  • Be less judgmental
  • Become less disturbed by and less reactive to unpleasant experiences
  • Learn the distinction between oneself and one’s thoughts
  • Experience the world directly, rather than living through one’s thoughts
  • Learn that everything changes; that thoughts and feelings come and go like the weather
  • Experience less emotional volatility
  • Develop self-acceptance and self-compassion
  • Experience less anxiety and depression


Equine Assisted Therapy


Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) incorporates horses in the psychotherapy process and is rapidly gaining recognition amongst mental health professionals (Mandrell, P. (2006); Trotter, K.S. (2012)).  Several aspects of a horse’s nature make it a valuable adjunct in therapy.  Horses are majestic and graceful and thus naturally sustain a person’s attention.  Hence, for many, EAT is a refreshing alternative to office-based therapy sessions.  EAT is inherently present moment focused.  Clients are naturally drawn into the present moment through the beauty and power of horses.   Furthermore, horses require that one stays in the present moment by virtue of their very nature: they are prey animals, constantly monitoring the environment for potential threats.  Situations can change very quickly when one is around horses and this naturally encourages a person to monitor oneself, the horse, and the environment.  In addition to being present-moment focused, EAT, like mindfulness, also encourages a person to hold a non-judgmental attitude.  Indeed, a person is much more likely to have successful interactions with a horse if he/she harbors acceptance and compassion towards it.

Horses live in herds structured by a dominant-subordinate hierarchy.  As such, horses respond strongly to a person’s self-confidence and leadership.  Horses possess an elaborate repertoire of body signals to enhance communication among herd members and avoid conflicts.  Through their evolution, horses have mastered the art of reading body language, both that of conspecifics and of humans.  Horses’ ability to be attuned to minute aspects of body language provide clients with direct, objective feedback about their non-verbal communication and underlying emotions and mental states. 

In therapy, empathic attunement and congruence are viewed as essential components of the client / therapist relationship.  Interestingly, horses naturally possess similar qualities.  They are non-judgmental and accepting.  Horses are also congruent; they do not lie or have hidden agendas.

EAT takes many forms, from handling, grooming and leading a horse, to advanced horsemanship skills, round penning and problem solving activities in an arena.  The activities involved in EAT take place on the ground.  There are no mounted activities.

Benefits of EAT

  • Acquire skills that increase internal locus of control such as self-confidence, self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-efficacy
  • Learn to manage anger, anxiety, frustration, disturbing emotions and memories
  • Develop assertiveness and empowerment
  • Become aware of healthy boundaries
  • Improve communication including body language and the ability to express feelings
  • Develop empathy, trust, respect and patience
  • All that being said, EAT is also FUN!

 

Combining Mindfulness and EAT

We believe that combined together, mindfulness and EAT have the ability to outperform either therapy alone.  Indeed, the two therapies marry well.  For example, mindfulness teaches one to access the present moment through our senses, such as the sensations associated with breathing, walking, sitting, eating, or awareness of a sound in the environment. Adding horses to the therapeutic process allows clients to be immersed in their senses: they touch, smell, brush, and lead horses.  These experiences further reinforce present moment awareness.  Also, mindfulness is seen in the scientific literature as promoting self-regulation of attention and emotions.  Interestingly, interacting with horses also promotes self-regulatory processes.  Being prey animals, horses often default to the “flight” mode when feeling threatened.  In these situations, successful interactions will ensue provided that a person is able to bring about qualities of calmness, focus, and presence.  In sum, the use of mindfulness and EAT has a synergistic effect.


References

Bowen, S., Wikiewitz, K., Dillworth, T. M., Chawla, N., Simpson, T.l., Marlatt, G.A. (2006).  Mindfulness meditation and substance use in an incarcerated population.  Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 20, 343-347.

Hoffman, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness- based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78, 169-183.

King, A. P., Erickson, T. M., Giardino, N. D., Favorite, T., Rauch, S., Robinson, E., Kulkami, M. & Liberzon, I. (2013). A pilot study of group mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) for combat veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Depression and Anxiety, 30, 7, 638-645.

Kristeller, J.L., Baer, R. A., Quillian-Wolever, R. (2006). Mindfulness-based approaches to eating disorders.  In Baer, R. A., Mindfulness-based approaches: Clinician’s guide to evidence base and application, 4, 75-89.

Mandrell, P. (2006).  Introduction to equine-assisted psychotherapy: A comprehensive overview.

Teasdale, J.D., Williams, J. M., Soulsby, J. M., Segal, Z. V., Ridgeway, V. A., & Lau, M. A. (2000).  Prevention of relapse/recurrence in major depression by mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 615-623.

Trotter, K. S. (2012). Harnessing the power of equine assisted counseling.  Routledge.

Van de Weijer-Bergsma, E., Formsa, A. R., de Bruin, E. I.,& Bőgels, S. M. (2012).  The effectiveness of mindfulness training on behavioral problems and attentional functioning in adolescents with ADHD.  Journal of Child and Family Studies, 21, 775-787.

Walser, R. D., & Westrup, D. (2007).  Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder & trauma-related problems: A practitioner’s guide to using mindfulness and acceptance strategies. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.