Healing from an Eating Disorder is a very individual process and what might work for some may not be effective for others. While traditional talk therapy and dietitian services are a great place to start, there are many other alternative therapies that can complement and bolster traditional Eating Disorder treatment.
Sierrah Acres is a centre located in Oro-Medonte (just North of Barrie, Ontario) that offers Equine Assisted Personal Development (EAPD) to people with all types of mental health struggles. EAPD is an experiential, therapeutic approach that involves being in the presence of, and working alongside horses to help uncover truths about the self. Sessions provide a safe and calming environment to help address emotional roadblocks, build confidence, self efficacy and learn new life skills.
Owner Cindy Hoyda founded Sierrah Acres eight years ago after experiencing the healing power of horses first-hand. With a life-long love of horses she found that spending time in the barn really helped her when she was supporting her own daughter through an Eating Disorder. “It was then when I would find myself even more so in the barn, spending endless hours and realizing the clarity that I would feel afterward,” she remembers.
As her daughter went through her recovery journey Cindy felt compelled to share the healing power of horses to others who were struggling. “I just felt that this was a great combination to be able to offer the experience of the healing and the goodness that horses have to offer to those who are suffering, whether it be an Eating Disorder, or any other mental health or emotional issue,” she says.
Through both individual and group sessions the EAPD coaches at Sierrah Acres help clients interact with the horses, creating metaphors that can be used to highlight patterns that are present in their lives. Cindy says many people with Eating Disorders may be able to resonate with many of the traits that horses have including hypervigilance, sensitivity and their need to feel comfortable in their bodies. “That can also resonate back to self care and self compassion, how to care for a horse and what they do to protect themselves and what their day looks like,” Cindy says. “They want to be comfortable emotionally and mentally as well.”
According to Cindy one of the most important things that horses can teach those suffering from Eating Disorders or any other mental health issue is how to be in the moment. They live their lives 100% in the present and are extremely intuitive, reacting quickly to changes in their environment. “That means energy as well,” Cindy says. “They can hear a human heartbeat four feet away. With that energy you’re going to be getting that type of feedback and lots of times there’s questions. I think that’s maybe the uncanny way of how they can bring us into the present moment.”
All treatment at Sierrah Acres is tailored to the individual’s needs and last for four, six or eight sessions in tight succession. The goal of EAPD is for the participant to take what they have learned from the horses and apply it in their everyday lives. Cindy also says it is a great way to explore that ambivalence that is often present in people with Eating Disorders. “When it’s that type of true suffering, when one wants to change and there’s the devil on one side and the angel on the other pulling you in two different directions, that constant ambivalence that goes on is really what inspired me to be able to take the goodness of this place–nature in its finest form and horses who are honest and empowering–and combine it with helping people in any way, shape or form with their struggles emotionally.”
Have you ever heard of Equine Assisted Self Development? Is it something you or a loved on might be interested in trying as a tool in recovery?