Therapy, horses and a better you
After moving to Somerset in 2007, Laurie Burgess started to think about how she could combine her love of horses and her desire to help people.
"We moved here in 2007 and I was trying to figure out what I could do with the horses because I wanted to combine my passion for horses with my compassion for people," Laurie said. "As I looked around, I knew I didn't want to do therapeutic riding or riding instruction or any of those other options that deal with riding, but then I came across E.A.G.A.L.A. and got really interested in that because it sounded like the perfect fit."
The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association model is a form of equine assisted psychotherapy and personal development. Within the model, a group of three — which includes an equine specialist, a mental health professional and at least one horse — works with the client to help them grow and find solutions to their problems.
"This work goes really deep, really fast, and the horses bring up a lot of emotional issues for people. It happens very quickly," Laurie said. "That is why we have a mental health professional in both therapy and personal development sessions."
After finding the E.A.G.A.L.A. model of horse therapy, Laurie and her husband both became certified in the model and worked at a nearby facility as a way to get started in the practice. But it wasn't long before the couple decided that they wanted to start their own horse therapy practice on their farm.
"Steve, Laurie and I started doing a lot of sessions together and when a horse came for sale out here, I purchased him. That was when we started talking about bringing the work to their farm, which was always their intention," said Lindsay Hildreth, a mental health professional trained in marriage and family therapy. "It just seemed like a good fit."
In 2015, the trio started their own practice — The Yellow Rose Farm - Equine Assisted Personal Development — at the Burgess' farm. The group's herd includes eight horses, with seven of those horses being used in sessions.
"The biggest thing that we need to explain is that there is no riding," Laurie said. "All work is done on the ground with the horses in their environment. The horses can choose to interact with people or not. This work is really metaphor based. We know that the thoughts, feelings, behaviors and emotions that come up in the pasture with the horses are the same ones that come up for people in life. It gives them an opportunity to practice new ways of living."
As an example, Laurie said that some people step away from the horses when they get into the pasture because they just then realize how big an animal they are and say that aloud. In response, Laurie, Steve and Lindsay would then ask the person what else in life right now is so big that is causing them fear.
"How a client thinks about approaching the horses has a big correlation with how they interact with people in their daily lives," Lindsay said. "We don't interpret the work that we do out here. That is part of the model in that we are solution oriented. We as a society are pretty focused on the problems we have, but what is cool about coming out here is that we really try to help people realize that within every problem is a solution. We help facilitate someone to figure out what the solutions are for their struggles."
According to Steve, one of the main reasons horses make such good therapy animals is their ability to read people by their body language and how they interact with the horse.
"The reason people can come to those big realizations is the same reason that we use the horses. With horses being a prey animal, they know what is in your heart instead of what is in your head," Steve said. "They don't care what you are thinking or what you are saying because they know really what is in your heart and they react accordingly. They react to what they know about you. They pick up on energy, body language and discrepancies in what you are saying and how you really feel."
There is no horse experience needed to take part in the Prairie Rose Farm therapy, Laurie said. However, she did advise that you should dress for the weather because the session will go on no matter what it is like outside. According to Laurie, the model works well for anxiety, depression, PTSD and it works for personal empowerment, which is, according to Laurie, the group's specialty.
"If you have tried therapy for year and tried a lot of different stuff, why try the same thing over and over and expect a different result. This is something a little different than traditional therapy, but if you do your research you'll see that equine work is really starting to show up," Steve said. "There isn't a client out there that wouldn't be a candidate for equine therapy."