“Part of the problem with PTSD is coming home and not having that same system of support in place. So, although I have worked with veterans, and I’ve made really fantastic and long-lasting friendships out of that, it wasn’t actually something that I was particularly suited to alone because I hadn’t experienced that. Of course, I love to share my Walers with them and they have that common history but, for me with equine therapy, you’ve got to be true to yourself and you can’t pretend to be anything you’re not. Even though you might start out with the best of intentions of working with a particular group of people, what it comes down to is who you are. To give your best and be genuine, you have to find out who you are best able to help and work with, and unfortunately, that didn’t end up being veterans for me.”
WORKING WITH CHILDREN
Since discovering that working with children was her strength, Elizabeth has welcomed dozens of young clients through her door over the years. “I love working with people with confidence issues and trying to help them believe in themselves and their own abilities and what they are capable of, because it’s so much more than what they ever imagined. On a day-to-day basis, I usually finish my day job in the office and go home and I have a client, usually a school-aged child, waiting for me when I get home. And then we usually have an hour session with the horses.”
“It is a very private interaction,” explains Elizabeth. “There are a lot of different types of modalities with regards to therapy interaction with horses. And what I practise is one called Equine Facilitated Learning, and basically that comes down to providing a safe environment for the horse and for the individual to encourage development and learning.
“From an introductory point of view, we will often start with no real history of the individual. Part of the thinking behind that is the horse doesn’t get a brief of who they’re about to meet. If I know everything about them, it gives me a preconceived idea of who they are. Sometimes it’s necessary for safety reasons; obviously you need to know anything that might impact the session. But I do like to take an individual as they are in that moment because I will often have someone who will be fantastic or they’ll talk or they’ll interact in a way that their carer may not have experienced before because the animals have just opened them up. The horses just seem to provide this bridge to enable that communication.”
Not only does Elizabeth have horses on her stud, but she also has other animals such as dogs and cattle that the clients can interact with as well. “I try to always make sure the session is between them and the animal, and I try not to get in the way. Sometimes when they initially come, they’ll be hiding behind their carer and not interacting at all. So, I spend time creating opportunities for them to build the confidence to interact, such as starting with grooming, or feeding, but it usually ends with them working with the horse through groundwork, and possibly even riding as well.
“Keeping the environment predictable for them really helps them to relax as they know what to expect and can stay in their comfort zone. Over time, we can slowly start to expand that comfort zone, but it’s so important to let that individual know that they are in a safe space. And it’s important that we go at a pace they are comfortable with, and they can control, because they don’t often have control over any other part of their life. So, when they come, I allow them to help define how that session is going to go for them. And for those who are up to riding, that also helps with their core strength and fine motor development skills, which has loads of benefits as well. But using groundwork really helps them with getting an idea of their self-regulation and how they interact with others.