A very special relationship between human and horse to help people with a mental illness - Une complicité entre l’humain et le cheval ​ au bénéfice de la santé mentale

A very special relationship between human and horse to help people with a mental illness

By Melissa Richard
Translated by Sophie Grenier and Pierre Fantinato

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Who would have thought such terms as ‘’psychology’’ and ‘’horses’’ could relate so closely when it comes to the well-being of humans? For Mrs. Marjorie Leblanc, a psychologist for the Témiscouata installations, a western horseback riding trainer and an EFW facilitator (Equine Facilitated Wellness-Canada), there is no doubt they relate closely.  She has been aware of the fact for a long time. Mrs. Leblanc works with young people and she realized some of her young clients did not respond well to traditional therapy. So she decided to set up a special program that would combine both traditional psychological interventions and the techniques involved with the Equine Facilitated Wellness-Canada program. Her clients, aged 10 to 17, face problems such as depression, anxiety, relationship issues, low self-esteem, conflicts with their parents or siblings and a difficulty to manage their own emotions.
Each session lasts about an hour and fifteen minutes and takes place at “L’Écurie Maryse Thériault” located in Témiscouata-sur-le-lac. The number of sessions depends on the treatment plan established for each client as well as the client’s response to this experiential approach. It is important to mention that the clients do not ride the horses but interact with them through various drills on the ground. 

Well-Being Multiplied by Two: Humans and Horse

Mrs. Leblanc explains that horses are beautiful and impressive animals. They are a strong and noble creature, but still they remain fragile. Such contradictions can positively influence  young clients and help them become more aware of who they are and help them engage in a process for a better life. Clients experience such activities as bandaging and handling the animal, observing the horse as he runs free, etc. The client can therefore learn new ways to communicate, experience new behaviours, an discover what he must improve to communicate better with the people around him.

Mrs. Leblanc also insists on the importance of being honest and totally present when you engage with horses. Horses are a prey animals and remain very sensitive to how other horses or humans feel: how do those who come close to them feel? Are they calm? Are they in distress? Horses act as a mirror to how we feel. Sometimes humans just act as a predator would when they approach horses. This is one thing you must not do. You must be humble when you approach horses in order for them to respect you and to collaborate with you. When you approach horses with no desire whatsoever to dominate them, they collaborate with you because they feel they are engaging in a winning partnership. From that moment on, humans and horses are partners.

Surprising Results

The influence she could Experiences differ from one client to another, Mrs. Leblanc is always happily surprised with the results. Since 2011, when the program was implemented, 75 sessions have been organized and 15 clients have benefited from it. One particular experiment really moved Mrs. Leblanc. The young girl she was working with had been depressed for many months; she wasn't reacting, she wasn't standing straight. Mrs Leblanc decided to go for more active exercises to encourage the young girl to become a part of the action. She asked her to have the horse trot as she would run next to him. Mrs. Leblanc explained that her posture, energy, intentions and her breathing could either help her reach her objective with the horse or fail her. When

the client realized have on the horse, she stood straight, looked right in front of her, became more confident and energetic. She smiled and increased her own pace. The horse followed. He felt relaxed, he felt there were no tensions. The young girl was quite impressed and marvelled as she reached her goal and watched the horse collaborate with her.

A Dream Come True

Mrs. Leblanc has felt a passion for horses since childhood. She trained for many years and did research. In 2010, she found “L’Écurie Maryse Thériault”. The installations were close to her home and allowed her to make her dream come true: to combine both her passion for horses and psychology. “Les Écuries Namasté,” near Quebec City, helped her transform her project into something more official. They offered her training her to become an EFW facilitator. Mrs. Leblanc wishes to thank her chief of programs, Mrs. Michèle Soucy as well as the human resources manager at the time, Mrs. Sarah Lebel, who were both open-minded enough to support her project and help her reach her goal. 
The EFW approach is well established in the USA and in the rest of Canada. It is developing more and more in Quebec. For now, Mrs. Leblanc is the only psychologist trained as an EFW facilitator in Bas-Saint-Laurent and she is now in the process of being recognized by the EFW-Can (Equine Facilitated Wellness-Canada). The association that was founded in 2011 exists, among other things, to ensure emotional and physical safety of humans and horses when EFW services are being offered as well as to establish standards for training and practice. The management and the chief of programs in Témiscouata are very proud of this innovative project and are convinced of the positive impacts on the people who engaged in the process.