What is Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL)?
Equine Facilitated Learning is a hands-on educational program that uses interaction and relationship development between horses and humans in an environment of learning and self-discovery. It is designed to promote personal growth and the development of positive social and life skills in a fun and supportive environment. Through a curriculum of activities designed to address individual goals and needs, each equine interaction is framed to help students learn and grow. The horse barn environment naturally lends itself as a unique multi-sensory classroom.
All of the below attributes make the equine a natural partner to teach us about ourselves and help us develop interactive skills for navigating life.
- Equines are herd animals who naturally want to interact. They easily engage students with their willingness to respond and cooperate.
- Developing the skills to effectively communicate with a horse builds self-confidence, empathy, and trust. Visually horses are large animals and therefore can easily represent some of life’s bigger challenges and obstacles that each of us face in our personal life and social situations.
- Horses are prey animals whose very survival depends on the ability to be very sensitive to both non-verbal communication and another’s intent, even when it is subconscious! The feedback they give to humans in response to our body language is valuable information as we learn about how we and others communicate. They do not have ulterior motives when they interact. Their non-judgmental presence creates an emotionally safe learning environment.
- Horses have survived for thousands of years because they create an effective social hierarchy with clear “rules” and responsibilities ensuring safety and harmony with-in the herd. Learning about herd dynamics and observing the horses as they interact is another metaphor for society, providing opportunities to explore social situations and how to successfully navigate them.
The CDC estimates that 1 in every 68 children is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined. An estimated 1.5 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide are affected by autism. According to this data, the need for learning, social skills and daily living activity skills for that set of individuals alone is great.
We plan to serve a wide variety of the special needs of untraditional individuals from all age groups. These groups include a mix of diagnosis such as (but not limited to): autism, ADD, ADHD, and other developmental delays. There are also specific curriculums for bullying and literacy programs to serve clients, whether they are in the spectrum of developmental delays or not. Our plan is to encompass all age groups and varying issues within the Equine Interactions programs.
In the future, we would like to also introduce Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP). This program could possibly include issues such as trauma, addiction, grief, eating disorders and PTSD as well as others who would benefit from social, emotional, behavioral and mental health needs.
Upon visiting the ARC program in DeFuniak Springs we obtained the following information:
- The director of ARC and the charter school of Walton County, Kim Lonas, has already seen the benefits of Equine Facilitated Learning through other programs in South Florida and has students at ARC waiting for our services.
- There are 3 sister charters from ARC the immediate area.
- We currently have clients from ARC involved in a 4 week Equine Interactions Equine program at Alaqua Animal Refuge.
Strategy and Implementation
How does EFL work?
Each week the participants explore a new concept (i.e., trust, body language, managing risk, boundaries) through the eyes of their horse. As comfort and confidence levels grow, students implement new activities, building their self-confidence and skill levels.
As they interact and work with the horse, they observe the behaviors and responses, develop skills, discuss and reflect as they enjoy time at the farm with staff, their volunteers and each other. As the participants engage in the equine experience in an active manner, they are afforded the opportunity to capture the concepts to be learned, practice their new skills and reflect on how they might apply what they have learned to their own social interactions and life experiences.
- Alaqua’s Equine Interactions will have a course instructor who is a PATH International EFL certified Equine Specialist in Mental Health & Learning. They provide challenging curriculums to encourage personal growth and build self-esteem. Accommodations and modifications are utilized when needed, to promote individual success.
- The Equine Interactions staff and well trained volunteers model a culture of acceptance and appreciation for all unique abilities.
- Alaqua Animal Refuge provides a safe and supportive educational environment that allows for individual learning with one-on-one assistance when interacting with the horses. Our multi-sensory environment and inclusive teaching strategies are designed to support all learning styles and learning differences.
- To insure alignment with philosophies and curriculums, the Equine Interactions team will work closely with directors, administrators, teachers, and counselors. We are open to incorporating assessment tools and resources when appropriate.
- The Equine Interactions staff encourages students to create personal program goals and share any specific objectives that they want to focus on each day. Through this, students can actively participate in setting the program curriculum within each class. They are further challenged to assess their own progress based on their personal goals and objectives. This creates a very powerful individual and personal learning experience.
- As with all newly learned skills, reinforcement and generalization are crucial. At Alaqua’s EFL program, students are afforded the opportunity to further explore and practice the skills, they acquired while working with the horses, staff and volunteers. Alaqua Animal Refuge & Equine Interactions also encourages schools to allow students to film an educational video to share what they have learned in the classroom or with their families. By teaching others, the student’s skills are processed and reinforced in a new way.
- We have already seen students open their minds and hearts during our 4 week pilot program. One student looks directly at staff, smiles and speaks where he normally does not and another engages in conversation beyond his normal.