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Mental Health Awareness Month: What Is EAGALA Equine Therapy?

Updated: Jul 18

Equine Assisted Development is a little different than other equine therapy locations - and many of our visitors already know this! Whether that difference is due to the accepting and calming feeling on our farm, our location right in the city, or because we follow the EAGALA Model is up to you.


Equine Therapy has many forms, but one of the most common questions we get is about our EAGALA Model, and how that shapes our groups, sessions, and retreats. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we wanted to share what makes EAGALA Equine Therapy unique, and how Equine Assisted Development (EAD) serves our community through our farm in the city.

First, the basics:

But even though this history is interesting, it doesn’t really tell you what EAGALA Equine Therapy is, or how it is different, or the benefits. See each section below to answer all of your questions about EAGALA, Equine Therapy, and EAD - and then reach out to us to plan a visit for yourself, your group, or your organization!


What Is EAGALA Equine Therapy?


Equine Assisted Development offers client's two distinct forms of therapy, first the EAGALA Model - equine assisted psychotherapy (EAP) and second, equine assisted learning (EAL). The EAGALA Model is considered the gold standard for equine assisted psychotherapy and personal development.


Clients looking to utilize EAP therapy are required to provide their own licensed therapist to accompany therapy sessions to work alongside an EAGALA certified horse specialist and those interested in EAL, work solely with an EAGALA certified horse specialist.


In short, the EAGALA Equine Assisted Psychotherapy model (EAP) includes a licensed Mental Health Professional, an Equine Specialist, and horses working together with the client. This means it is a team effort between the client, the horse(s), the Mental Health Professional, and the Equine Specialist.


Here is additional information about each member of your EAGALA EAP team:

  1. The Horse

  2. Horses have many characteristics which help them be effective agents of change, such as their honesty, vigilance, emotional capacity, and ability to pick up on nonverbal cues. The role of the horses in an EAGALA Equine Therapy Model is to simply be themselves.

  3. The Mental Health Provider/Licensed Therapist

  4. The Mental Health Professional is responsible for treatment planning, documentation, and ethics in the EAGALA Equine Therapy Model. Additionally, the Mental Health Professional brings relevance to observations and metaphor throughout the session.

  5. The Equine Specialist

  6. The Equine Specialist chooses the horses based on information from the client and Mental Health Professional and works with the Mental Health Professional on session planning. The Equine Specialist pays special attention to the client and team safety, and makes observations of horse behavior, which provides opportunities for metaphors for the Mental Health Professional to use with the client.

Equine Assisted Learning therapy model (EAL) includes everything above, minus the mental health provider/licensed therapist. You could almost say that both forms of equine therapy are similar to a herd, with everyone working together to help the client better understand their situation, feel safe, and overcome their personal hurdles.


Our EAP and EAL models of therapy take place inside of our EAD arena, where all of the work is done on the ground (this means no riding, so anyone can benefit even with no prior horse knowledge). And unlike some other equine therapy models, EAGALA keeps the horses front and center, allowing interactions with the client.


We believe that EAGALA Equine Therapy allows the client to reflect, project, and make deep connections with how the horses are acting, and how that mirrors their journey, their emotions, or current obstacles in their life.


What Makes EAGALA & Equine Therapy Different?


EAGALA truly is a team practice as it benefits the Equine Specialist and their love of working with horses, the Mental Health Professional (utilized through the EAP therapy model) by providing powerful alternative therapy, and the client by providing effective growth and learning. EAGALA is not only effective and intense, but often enjoyable and facilitates personal breakthroughs in a unique environment without ongoing face-to-face dialogue, a model differing from more traditional forms of talk therapy.


EAGALA provides a standard structure for Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) sessions. And though the EAGALA Model provides a framework for practice, there are many opportunities within that framework for creativity and adaptability in order to best fit the needs of the client and individual therapeutic styles.


Here are a few of the consistencies you will see in EAGALA Equine Therapy:

  1. A EAP treatment team as explained above, consisting of a licensed Mental Health Professional, a certified Equine Specialist, and horses - all working with the client, side-by-side.

  2. All work is ‘grounded,’ meaning there is no riding work in the EAGALA Model

  3. The goals and routines of EAGALA are solutions-focused and personalized for each client by experiential learning, reflection, projection, and self-discovery. This is very different from traditional talk therapy, as EAGALA involves considerably less speaking.

  4. EAGALA certification requires Continued Education Credits and renewal every two years, making sure the model is understood and adhered to by all EAGALA certified practitioners.

Additionally, EAGALA utilizes horses as an integral part of their model instead of other animals for three central reasons:

  1. Horses are Intelligent Prey

  2. Horses are extremely sensitive to their environment due to being prey, not predators. They are ‘fright-flight’ animals, not fight, this means they are able to instinctively analyze and react to body language and other nonverbal cues. Due to the emotional intelligence of horses, they often mirror our emotions, providing us with valuable insights into ourselves.

  3. Horses are Large & Powerful

  4. Horses are impossible to ignore due to their size, power, and presence. And because of this, you cannot control a horse fully, just like we cannot control life fully. Using horses in EAGALA Equine Therapy helps us to reflect on how we approach relationships and other overwhelming things in our lives.

  5. Horse are Herd Animals with Unique Personalities

  6. Horses are social creatures who are happiest in a herd, with defined roles within that herd. They each have unique personalities, attitudes, moods, and emotions - they can be stubborn, playful, cautious, lonely, even melancholic. Essentially, horses have a similar emotional capacity to humans, which makes working with them both enlightening and interesting.

What Are the Benefits of EAGALA (EAP) & EAL?


EAGALA Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) and separately, Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL) are hands-on approaches designed to help clients identify and work through life obstacles and issues.


EAGALA Equine Therapy utilizing the Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) model can assist in dealing with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, grief, addiction, trauma, and behavior modification. And Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) focuses more on education than on modification, such as leadership development. This makes EAL a great tool for skills building and corporate retreats. EAL is also very useful when working with groups from schools or teams.


Essentially, everyone can benefit from EAGALA Equine Therapy (EAP) and EAL - as we can all learn, grow, and overcome past trauma and personal issues. Additionally, the goals of EAP and EAL are for clients to interact face-to-face with the horses from the ground - not their backs. This allows them to observe the horse’s reactions and identify how they could be metaphors for their own lives.


Horses are not only intelligent prey animals, but also extremely sensitive to humans and how we act, move, and react to them, each other, and our environment. Couple this with the fact that horses have the uncanny ability to pick up on our non-verbal behavior and emotions, and you have a great opportunity to understand your client.


In many ways, horses hold up a mirror to all of us, clients included. This then helps the Mental Health Professional interpret the situation, client, and ask questions and reflectively listen.

Learn More About the EAGALA Model & EAD of Grand Rapids Today!


In these difficult and unprecedented times, we are sending a gentle reminder to prioritize your mental health with the care and kindness it deserves.


EAD wants to help you take a step back and have a one-of-a-kind experience with our horses so you can return to your life, family, friends and career with hope, honesty, respect, integrity, optimism, perseverance, dignity and endurance (EAD’s 8 core values).


Learn more about our impact, our story, or partner with us and donate to help us continue our work in the Grand Rapids area. Or, contact us to find a time to visit that works for you, your herd, and ours.

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