The Helping Horse: How Equine Assisted Learning Contributes to the Wellbeing of First Nations Youth in Treatment for Volatile Substance Misuse

Cindy Adams1, Cheryl Arratoon2, Janice Boucher3, Gail Cartier3, Darlene Chalmers4, Colleen Anne Dell5, Debra Dell6, Dominique Dryka3, Randy Duncan7, Kathryn Dunn8, Carol Hopkins9, Loni Longclaws10, Tamara MacKinnon3, Ernie Sauve10, Serene Spence7, & Mallory Wuttunee7

Authors are listed in alphabetical order: (1) University of Calgary, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, (2) Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, (3) Cartier Equine Learning Centre, (4) University of Regina, Faculty of Social Work, (5) University of Saskatchewan, Department of Sociology & School of Public Health, (6) Youth Solvent Addiction Committee, (7) University of Saskatchewan, Department of Sociology, (8) University of Saskatchewan, School of Public Health, (9) National Native Addictions Partnership Foundation, (10) White Buffalo Youth Inhalant Treatment Centre

There has been recent interest in Canada exploring the benefits of equine assisted interventions in the treatment of First Nations youth who misuse volatile substances. Using the richness of an exploratory case study involving the White Buffalo Youth Inhalant Treatment Centre and the Cartier Equine Learning Center, our community-based study examined the question of how an Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) program contributes to the wellbeing of First Nations female youth who misuse volatile substances. Both programs are grounded in a holistic bio-psycho-social-spiritual framework of healing. Our study shares how the EAL horses, facilitators and program content contributed to youths’ wellbeing in each area of the healing framework (bio-psycho-social-spiritual), with emphasis on the cultural significance of the horse and its helping role. The horse is a helper in the girls’ journeys toward improved wellbeing—the horse helps through its very nature as a highly instinctive animal, it helps the facilitators do their jobs, and it also helps put the treatment program activities into practice. In addition, the role of First Nations culture in the girls’ lives was enhanced through their encounters with the horses. The findings support the limited literature on equine assisted interventions and add important insights to the youth addictions treatment literature. Key implications to consider for EAL and volatile substance misuse policy, practice and research are identified.

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