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Equine Facilitated Mental Health

Hi Franklin,

We are a non-profit ADHD Support Group and we are planning to organize a Horseback Riding Program for our ADHD children (ages 3-18 years old), can we seek your advice?

Do our certified horse riding instructors need the full EFL training course even if we give them seminars/workshops on ADHD and considering we have a pool of psychologists and trained volunteers to help us in this program?

What is the coverage of the EFL full training course, can we take it on-line and be certified as well?

As to the success of your horse riding training with the ADHD, how were the outcomes measured, what formative and summative evaluations were used? Can we avail of the results?

Hope you can enlighten us on these. Many thanks and more power to you!


Dear Liz,

How lovely to get your email. Thank you. Thank you as well for your interest in Equine Facilitated Learning as opposed to and somewhat different from 'therapeutic riding.' Equine Experiential, Guided and Facilitated Learning is not about putting a challenged or disabled human on a horse. It is actually about one-on-one, mutually successful communication, action and interaction between horse and human. It is much more like a dance, and a ballroom dance at that (a good leader and a good, trusting follower). It is more to do with the mental aspects, cognitive skills, presence, applied leadership and consciousness of the human when with the horse to produce mutually successful interaction. By "mutually successful communication and interaction" I mean where the horse and human are equally engaged, freely involved (no  heavy restraints or coercion towards the horse) and 'feeling' positive and inspired about the outcome of the interaction.

This video is a 7 minute clip of an actual session of mine in the UK with a child with ADHD, autism and epilepsy (all in one child). What I do is not therapeutic 'riding' or riding for the disabled. It is not about riding at all. It is 'mental health' through appropriate and mutually successful interaction/action (on the ground) between horses and humans (whether it be learning challenged children or CEO's). It all takes place on the ground.

While I do believe therapeutic riding is beneficial in many ways, it is not so great for the horses involved (restricted by side walkers as well as someone leading the horse with a death grip on the leadrope). I guide the horse and human into a partnership through helping and teaching the human how to 'lead' and direct their movement. It's a dance more like ballroom dancing.

Most therapeutic riding program providers, riding instructors (and humans in general) do not understand how to partner with a horse in this process. They do not think it is even possible because of their clinging to erroneous beliefs about horses. As you will see in the You Tube video clip, the magic and greatest benefit comes from when the horse is invited and allowed to become a true partner in the process. There are many wonderful and qualified health care professionals and even more decent riding instructors. There are many qualified to be safe side walkers and lead a horse with a disabled person riding the horse. During these sessions the horse is extremely controlled, restrained, confined and rightly so. What is really lacking in the world of equine facilitated or equine assisted programs are humans with truly great knowledge of the nature of horses and the understanding of their psychology in such a way which allows a very different approach to Equine Facilitated Mental Health (not hippo-therapy) where the horse is at least a willing and equal partner. The knowledge and abilities to evaluate a horse for this sort of work is important too.

Riding instructors, in my over 40 years of experience (I am 61 years of age) as a professional trainer as well as riding instructor, only teach riding and not 'horse.' They may teach riding at a very high level and their students may win a lot of ribbons. Their equine topics include; environmental aspects of horse keeping (stall cleanliness, clean air, equine maintenance being proper food, clean water, grooming, hoof care, health care, wound treatments, saddling and the like) and equestrian (riding) skills and techniques. What is missing in all this teaching is solid information about the horse itself (psychology, language, extensive knowledge of natural herd behavior, the empathetic and emotional lives of horses, the strong intuitive nature of horses and how to develop trust and eliminate fear within the horse, etc.). The traditional response to a horse balking at something is to "show him who is boss...take charge...make him do it...pop him with the crop...use your spurs...on and on". This is coercion and force. To me, this is like being with a child who is terrified of something and the adult pushing and trying to make the child move into the fearful situation. I believe this is unfair, inappropriate, abusive and works against the child learning anything. This also creates more fear as well as resentment towards the adult. It is the same with horses.


The horse learns to trust the human, the child learns to trust themselves (and the horse) through discovering information about the language and appropriate equine interaction methods (as you may have seen in the You Tube video). The self-esteem, attention and interest of the child goes sky high as does their confidence when these sessions are conducted by folks having extensive and grounded knowledge of equines (no opinions or projections or even riding lessons involved). When all these things line up and are present with an EFL session, the learning disabled child appears to no longer be as disabled as thought, looks quite normal and happy handling a big horse and the 'miracle' of the healing power of the horse is easily identified.

"Pools of psychologists" abound as you said, as do certified riding instructors. There are simply few individuals who have the experience, paradigms, knowledge and beliefs about horses that allow the normal therapeutic riding program to move into true mental health enhancement and profound life enrichment.

Most humans just don't believe it is possible to partner with a horse like this nor understand how to facilitate it. It looks simple when viewed. It looks like the most natural thing in the world. Yet, it rarely happens. Hippo-therapy (riding horses as therapy) is a wonderful thing and can have terrific benefit. But, as you may have noticed in the video clip, it is the mental health aspects that seem to me to be the most startling and profound.

I have taught courses in EFL in the UK as well as here in the States. I have developed a 5-day course in EFL and I could send you information about it if you like. Additionally, I produced a 30 minute video (the You Tube clip is from this video) that introduces folks to this brand of EFL. The first 30 minutes of the full video (60 minutes) contains entry level horsemanship and shows English children learning basic horsemanship (on the ground) with their ponies. Then the second 30 minutes is a comprehensive introduction to EFL, including several actual sessions, explanation, discussion and comments from parents and health care professionals. You might consider this video as a valuable resource for your EFL reference library. It is available through my website shopping corral. I would be happy to send you one, let me know.

To respond to your questions:

"Do our certified horse riding instructors need the full EFL training course even if we give them seminars/workshops on ADHD and considering we have a pool of psychologists and trained volunteers to help us in this program?"

To this, I would ask you; are your certified riding instructors qualified as COMPASSIONATE, SKILLFUL, GENTLE AND PATIENT HORSE TRAINERS? Are they able to define and understand equine fear as the motivation for most all problems with horses and how to turn that fear to trust? Again, this is not about riding instruction and actually goes against some traditional riding instruction as initiated by the BHS (British Horse Society). While 'certification' in a particular area does imply a level of formal education, our lives and abilities to be most effective in any endeavor are dictated by our attitudes, beliefs about ourselves and life experiences (irregardless of our certifications). A law degree does not necessarily make a great lawyer.

"What is the coverage of the EFL full training course, can we take it on-line and be certified as well?"

Taking my course provides participants who complete it with a Certification of Completion detailing topics covered. It includes evaluation not only of specifically learned skills with horses and the participants specifically for these programs, but additionally of the attitudes and beliefs that either support or work against high level successes with this work. While I write extensively and have been published internationally a lot on this topic, it is like trying to learn to Tango from a book. As you may glean from the video clip, one has to see it to get it. For this reason I do not offer an online course in EFL. Although I do offer horsemanship coaching via my free Help Center within my website (emails) as well as telephone coaching. But for something like EFL for learning disabled children, I strongly urge interested parties to get some hands-on training first. I suggest the same when wanting to learn to train horses at a high level.

"As to the success of your (my) horse riding training with the ADHD, how were the outcomes measured, what formative and summative evaluations were used? Can we avail of the results?"

Please have a look at the archived comments, reflections and testimonials found in the website, of those who have experienced my work. All of my work encompasses EFL, even straight out horse training. These comments are easily found within my website. Again, this is not "horse riding training" but, rather mental health improvement and life enrichment though mutually successful interaction and communication with horses. Your habitual thought to consider this "horse riding training" is common and it is one of the biggest challenges of this work to enlighten folks to get out of the habit of thinking only in terms of humans riding horses. There is not much communication between horse and human with a disabled person in the saddle. It is all about the positive effects of the physical 'motion' of the horse and the particular benefits for the rider related to riding the horse. The proof of my work is in the immediate and profound visible results and transformation of the human participant, as well as reflections and comments from parents and the health care professionals involved through their knowledge of the participant through their viewing the actual sessions. EFL is still somewhat new despite a worldwide band wagon of EFL programs. Most of the available programs are Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP). These are primarily programs for corporations (leadership/teambuilding), as this is where the real money can be made. There is really little EFL available for learning disabled children as there is basically no money for these programs. Although riding for the disabled programs are everywhere, municipal programs, at least here in the States, have little funding for these mental health programs as their results have no clinical studies readily available. In the UK the BHS controls everything horse related and it is heaped in traditions that do not include equine assisted mental health. They only support and certify, Riding for the Disabled (RDA). I and my supporters in the UK are currently working to change that paradigm. Unfortunately, there are no clinical studies I am aware of that document EFL and its potentially miraculous results. Some of this is probably because of the as yet unknown and unsubstantiated, aspects of equine psychology, levels of equine consciousness and, more specifically, the extent of the cognitive and intuitive aspects of horses. These things do not necessarily lend themselves to traditional laboratory or clinical studies. Why 'real magic' happens, why real miracles do take place and why horses can initiate such profound changes in humans remains substantially a mystery. There are theories, opinions, projections and the like put forth. But the kind of analytical, clinical evidence you are requesting of me, "formative and summative evaluations" are simply not available that I am aware of. I have been doing this work since I began running riding programs at large summer camps with equestrian programs (when I was in my 20's). For me, it has never been just about humans riding horses. It has always been so much more about the horse itself and then the mutually successful relationship between the two and the miracles that it produces.

This has probably been much more of a response than you might have been looking for. I apologize for its length. However, I wanted to make certain you understood the differences between therapeutic riding and equine facilitated mental health. They are different processes with different benefits. While they share some potential beneficial aspects, I personally believe achieving mutually successful interaction through successful, conscious 'relationship' with horses, has benefit that is much more far reaching. Thank you again for your contact. I do hope to hear back from you.

Sincerest regards, Franklin Levinson

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