The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) approach to facilitating a client’s journey to greater insight into their own mental health offers a strong, clear context for the mental health professional. I recently had the pleasure of completing a three day training on the Fundamentals of the EAGALA model of practice at Peace Ranch in Traverse City, Michigan. I went as a teacher with a teacher lens. While deeply interested in the method, I have no pretense of opening up an equine assisted mental health practice of my own. I live in the city without access to horses. I do, however, see compelling parallels to my own craft of teaching. It is the intent of this series of blog posts to explore the overlap between EAGALA and the classroom. To that end, my experience in the EAGALA approach was both compelling and enlightening.
EAGALA is anchored in experience. Fundamental to the practice are the experiential interactions with horses. Horses are uniquely suited for this work. Their very size and raw power makes interactions with horses memorable and vivid, creating an excellent environment for development of metaphors in dealing with life issues. The focus is centered around these direct experiences. Only through navigating felt experiences followed by careful reflection and processing does the deep growth enabled through EAGALA occur.
Constructivist teaching philosophy carried out in the classroom is equally grounded in the direct experience and interactions with compelling ideas followed by careful reflection and processing. It is the teachers’ job to engage students with activities and ideas brimming with impressive size and raw power sufficient to be memorable and vivid.
Some selected principles of experiential practice drawn for the Association for Experiential Education (www.aee.org; cited in EAGALA, 2012) speak to both the EAGALA therapeutic arena and the constructivist classroom.
- Experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis.
- Throughout the experiential learning process, the client (student) is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
- Clients (students) are engage intellectually, emotionally, socially, soulfully, and/or physically. This involvement produces a perception that the learning task is authentic.
- The client (student) may experiences success, failure, adventure, risk-taking and uncertainty, because the outcomes of experience cannot totally be predicted.
- The facilitator’s (teacher’s) primary roles include setting suitable experiences, posing problems, setting boundaries, supporting clients (students), ensuring physical and emotional safety, and facilitating the learning process.
- The facilitator (teacher) recognizes and encourages spontaneous opportunities for learning.
- The design of the learning experience includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes, and successes.
My professional goal is to launch my pre-service teacher candidates into their own craft with a commitment to powerful learning exemplified through these principles of experiential learning. I have a deep belief that if I can meet that goal, I will have a part in putting in motion powers to positively impact the lives of thousands of young children. When children are meaningfully engaged in powerful experiential learning, that learning has the power to impact their cognitive and emotional selves.
EAGALA (2012). Fundamentals of EAGLA Model Practice. Santaquin, UT: EAGALA