What is Equine Facilitated Learning?

Equine Facilitated Learning, or EFL for short, is a method that is now widely used in the United States and is increasingly gaining popularity here in the UK. At the heart of EFL is the concept that peoples’ lives can be positively influenced and permanently changed by spending time with horses.
The key idea focuses on a participant learning to bond and effectively communicate with a horse or pony. Participants are guided, by a trained EFL Practitioner, to use Natural Horsemanship training methods and the horse’s own subtle system of communication in order to achieve this. Horses are herd animals that are very much influenced by the behaviour and body language of those around them. Horses are incapable of lying and their reactions are unconditional, meaning they act as a living mirror. For example, if a person is nervous a horse will pick up on these feelings and also be ill at ease, where as if a person is confident the horse will also feel confident and secure. Most of the work takes place on the ground and an EFL session can take all kinds of forms from simply learning to bond with a horse through grooming it to lunging, leading, round-pen work and much more.

What are the benefits?

Spending such positive time with horses can benefit individuals in many ways. Participants will almost certainly experience increased confidence and self-esteem. People also tend to develop better communication and more fulfilling relationships in their lives as a result. Self-awareness and increased knowledge about the cause and effects of behaviour can also result. Often a person begins to feel greater empathy for others when responsible for a living, breathing animal.

Who is it for?

EFL is particularly useful for anyone who wants to develop qualities and skills in leadership, communication and confidence. It has enormous benefits for disabled, disadvantaged and vulnerable people who like horses. Equally it is a powerful tool for managers and for individuals who work in human services. For those who feel they have little control over their lives, EFL can be very empowering. However, anyone can take part in an EFL session and achieve positive results. Even if a person does not have a particular area of their life that they wish to change, the horse’s honest reaction to a person’s actions and behaviour can often give us insight our true feelings and deeper understanding of ourselves. Even at its simplest level EFL can give anyone a sense of achievement and well-being that is both lasting and valuable.

How is EFL different from other types of Equine Therapy?

Therapeutic riding is the form of Equine Therapy that most people are familiar with. It often focuses on the physical benefits that individuals can experience through riding horses. Often little time is spent on the ground with the horse. There are also models of Equine Therapy that focus on ground-work rather than riding, such as Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. This tends to focus on the psychological benefits that a person can derive from spending time with horses. Often this method follows a more medical and psychoanalytical approach. Equine Facilitated Learning differs in that the focus is on the emotional, spiritual and cognitive influence that spending time with horses can have on a person’s life. Equine Facilitated Learning is experiential which means that participants learn by doing and that the horse is the facilitator; a living breathing being who helps to direct the session, rather than simply an object. It can be described as a fusion between education, therapy and fun.

Why does Equine Facilitated Learning Work?

The answer to this question is not easy to explain, often because the results that individuals witness from EFL are so diverse and so specific to that person. We know that there are plenty of outcomes and that they can range from increased self esteem, clarity of thought, connectedness, personal healing and focused attention to relaxation, assertiveness and even simply a person liking themselves more. We know that at the root of these transformations is an emotional and even spiritual bond with a horse. As Winston Churchill said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” There is also something on the inside of a horse, something so generous and loving and forgiving, that is good for people also, the horse’s enormous, all-encompassing heart is such that it can accept us for who we really are and gently but lovingly ease us towards change. Perhaps that is the reason why EFL works the way it does. It gives us the courage to look in the mirror and it helps us to learn to love what we see.
Horses are able to bring magic to children’s lives and relationship-building skills to their existence.
Terena Thomas
For more information about Equine Facilitated Learning download our Stories of Success Leaflet.