It doesn't take long to realize the impact of this experiential therapeutic modality. In a few short sessions, clients often gain an acute awareness of how they're showing up in relationship to the horses. They make adjustments or shifts, and remarkably correlate how they could make similar shifts in their lives or relationships based on this emergent awareness.
The power of this work is tangible: for our clients, for our treatment team, and for our horses...
... Then the coronavirus pandemic happened in our town and - like the rest of our community - our lives and connections changed.
The idea of making anything that is experiential and quite literally hands on into something based solely on virtual interactions seemed impossible at first. How do we take therapy and learning that is rooted in the present, is tactile, and revolves around horse-human interaction and make it accessible and impactful now when our community needs support and connection the most? This is not only something that is brand new to our clients but to our team.
We knew we wanted to prioritize our clients' sense of safety even in the virtual space. We began to explore only virtual platforms that assured the highest HIPAA compliance. We also wanted to maintain as much continuity and predictability to the flow and format of our sessions for our clients who were used to having sessions on our farm. So we explored as a team… that is to say “we practiced what we preach.” In practice sessions we experimented how best to show our herd, how to work as a team across distance when we’re used to standing side by side, and how this new way of interfacing might impact our own experience as clients. We discovered that we could maintain the structure of the sessions by adapting to a verbal online consent, introductions, horse cards to begin the process of exploring metaphor, and found meaning in having an Equine specialist on the farm to serve as an extension or proxy for our clients. Time that would normally be spent interacting with the horses has shifted to observation and direction from the clients. Our treatment team can still find moments of quiet and lean into the pause, space can be explored, resources can be used however the client directs and there are still those moments of connection that make us revel in the power of horses.
Of course there have been moments of doubt, a relearning and unlearning of how to find our way to the heart of this work through the barriers that social distancing and virtual interactions can create. But every time a client gains a sense of deep awareness and relates their observations to their own lives, relationships, experiences we are humbled by what our herd offers. These connections that emerge naturally while observing the herd- when and how they are close, when they move away, how they respond and react to each other and to the client-directed ES behaviors- remind us that we don’t need to have any of the answers for anyone who comes to the farm- physically or virtually- we just hold space and figure out the logistics for our horses to do their work.
A conversation with Amber Klimovitz, LCSW edited by Brianne Murphy, ES.
Amber Klimovitz is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with experience working with adults and children in various settings. Amber is committed to holistic and integrative approaches to traditional mental health care and is passionate about the unique role horses can play in the process.