Angela K. Fournier1, Elizabeth A. Letson2, Thomas D. Berry3, & Emma Leigh Pasiuk1
1: Department of Psychology, Bemidji State University
2: Eagle Vista Ranch & Wellness Center
3: Department of Psychology, Christopher Newport University
Research was conducted on equine-assisted psychotherapy and learning (EAP), aimed at identifying and examining process variables. A total of 112 men and women participated in a correlational study, permitting the use of self-report data from EAP sessions within the model of the Equine-Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA). Human-animal interaction and metaphor were studied as process variables, while subjective distress and psychosocial learning were investigated as outcome variables. Participants reported a range of interactions between humans and horses, and the quantity of human-animal interaction was a significant predictor of reduced subjective distress. Metaphor data indicated horses most often represented family, friends, or feelings. Analyses suggest the relationship between human-animal interaction and psychosocial learning is mediated by the extent to which horses serve as metaphors for people and issues in the client’s life, providing empirical support for EAGALA’s notion that metaphor is critical to EAP outcomes. Findings are discussed as they relate to developing theory on the role of human-animal interaction in EAP and other animal-assisted therapies.