Equine-Assisted Personal Development 

 What is Equine-Assisted Personal Development? 

Equine-assisted personal development assists people to observe, develop, define and practice skills that are central to getting along with other people -- perhaps the most important skills that humans develop in that they cut across family, love relationships, work/career, friendships, fulfillment, and personal happiness. Equine-assisted Personal Development takes place on the ground: it does not involve riding, rather teams of participants (or individuals) and horses interact to perform various tasks which will challenge your leadership skill and ingenuity.

 Why Use Horses? 

Horses are impressive animals: they are 5 to 15 times larger, 20 to 40 times more powerful, and 3 to 4 times faster than a human. Working with horses is one of very few instances where a smaller, weaker predator animal (a human) attempts to control the movements of a larger, stronger prey animal (a horse). They make ideal teaching partners because they are also; curious, observant, sensitive, straightforward, willing and honest. Horses have no hidden agendas.

Horses are social animals: in their natural environment they live in herds for reasons of defense and procreation. Beyond their natural instincts, there are rules and procedures involved with living in a herd that horses must learn in order to get along. Herds are hierarchical: there is typically a dominant mare and a dominant stallion: members of the herd readily accept their leadership because it is in their best interest to live within the protective confines of the herd. Because there is no formal language and very little parental guidance, horses must learn by observation, trial and feedback. Survival in the herd depends heavily on the ability to observe and respond to non-verbal cues. Survival in the wild requires the horse to assess danger quickly so that they may take evasive action using their best defense -- running away from the threat. It is this very propensity that makes them extraordinary reflectors of human behavior; they can read people and their intentions to a remarkable degree, and typically react in a clearly observable manner. In spite of their size, strength, and speed, they are easily trainable and can become great friends: this combination has made the horse an invaluable partner in human endeavor over many centuries. Horses quickly learn to trust a friendly human as 'Horse Whisperer' Monty Roberts' relates in his wonderful book, The Man Who Listens To Horses; stimulus generalization then takes over and the horse learns to trust humans in general. Horses typically have a wonderful work ethic and will accept leadership from a human provided a respectful relationship is established. Recent studies have confirmed that horses can detect and respond to emotions and expressions by humans - even from photographs! This is the horses' genetic heritage.

 How Does It Work? 

Equine-assisted personal development occurs when teams of participants are placed in situations where they must communicate with each other and encourage horses to perform some task using non-verbal cues. Horses are typically happy to obey their human partners (leaders) but have to be made to understand what they are supposed to do: therein lies the learning experience for participants … human and equine.

We start by creating a situation where a team of humans has to get a horse to do something it would not otherwise do. If you offer a horse a handful of grain or a carrot it will eat without any special encouragement, but if you wish the horse to negotiate an obstacle course or jump over something, it will look at you in confusion and wonderment until you communicate the task. And even then the horse may chose not to carry out your carefully-communicated wish. Why should he/she? (Does this situation remind you of anyone in your work environment – or perhaps your family?) Your team's objective therefore, is to encourage the horse to perform the task by whatever means 'you' choose: this is how you reveal your nature, style and preference. And team members take turns at being team leader!

 Why Does It Work? 

Human individual differences dictate which methods each individual will choose. But as we all know, people have interpersonal and communication styles and habits which aren’t always adaptable to different situations: what works in one instance may not work in another, and both successful and unsuccessful habits may persist. Psychologists call this a ‘random-reinforcement schedule’: namely, if a particular behavior is rewarded occasionally (randomly), that behavior will persist and be hard to extinguish. (This is one of the reasons that gambling is so addictive.) So the trick is to learn the behavior that works all or most of the time. But first you must discover what that behavior is! That’s what this is all about.

 Where and When Does It Work? 

Obviously not all situations are alike, but there are a few behaviors and methods which work better than others: the trick is to read the situation and adopt the behavior which is most likely to work. Think of the people you know, have worked with, or are in your family or among your friends. Some are more effective in getting things done in team or cooperative situations than others. How do they do it? Can you learn from their successes or failures? Of course you can – if you are observing carefully. Working with horses in a controlled setting under careful scrutiny by our expert coaches (and by other members of your group) is an amazing way to learn about yourself.

 How Can My Group Get Involved? 

We can accommodate instructional groups from 6 to 12 people and will design a program to fit your needs. Groups should plan on programs spanning one to three days from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you are visiting, we can help arrange hotel accommodation as you wish. We will also include lunch and can arrange transportation to and from the ranch with your hotel concierge. Spouses may take in some of the many local attractions in Palm Springs including world-class golf courses, The Tram, shopping, The Living Desert, and various casinos, or may wish to visit Los Angeles (100 miles) or take in theatre or sporting events.

For an unforgettable experience which will produce personal insights and weld your team together as never before, call us. 

 Group Therapy? 

Working with horses has a proven track record of therapeutic benefit for individuals who may be suffering from a variety of personal and social adjustment problems including post-traumatic stress syndrome. When conducted by experienced counselors and professionals, equine-assisted therapy is a valuable adjunct to positive behavioral rehabilitation.

Donald Franklin, Ph.D., C. Psych.
Gretchen Slover, LMFT, Psy.D.
Equine-Assisted Personal Development
Willowbrook Equestrian Center
20555 Mountain View Road
Desert Hot Springs, CA 92241
(760) 329-7676    Cell (760) 902-5681    Fax (760) 251-1198
Email: don@willowbrookridingclub.com
Web Site: www.willowbrookridingclub.com


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