What the hell is Equine Facilitated Learning?

My guess is that you haven’t heard of a different approach to personal and professional development: Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL). So let’s change that!

What is EFL?

EFL involves working alongside horses, as an individual or as part of a group, to learn more about yourself and develop yourself on both a personal and professional level. Horses are amazing animals who live in the moment and give us instant feedback on our behaviour, allowing us to observe the impact of our actions and explore different ways of approaching situations. No experience or knowledge of horses is involved as all work is done on the ground, no riding is involved. EFL facilitators work alongside the horses to help reflect on the learning that is taking place, and how this can be transferred back into the workplace or individual situation. The language within EFL is focused around ‘working with’ rather than ‘using’ horses, the horses are seen as partners in this work, they are the instrumental part of helping people get to a deeper level of understanding about themselves and others, and the facilitators are there to explore these things that are felt with the horses, and what the participants can learn from it.

EFL however is not therapy, though often mistaken for Equine Therapy which many people have a greater awareness about – instead of a therapeutic focus there is a focus more aligned with coaching, helping individuals explore how to address goals, or challenges, and the horses give a depth of understanding in these areas.


How does it differ for more traditional forms of learning?

EFL is classed as experiential learning, as you experience it and feel the learning in the moment, and is very different to more classroom-based training (though they can complement each other). For example, you can learn in a classroom about different ways to be a leader, and you will get some insight into your preference, but with the horses you get immediate feedback on the way you lead, and how successful (or not!) it is. This means you can try different approaches in the moment and reflect on these, which are then useful to take back to the workplace. Attendees often feel a greater depth of learning as well as longevity when an activity is experiential, as it resonates with them because what they are doing is real.


In what areas can it help people?

There are many applications for EFL, and no two sessions would be the same as they often evolve based on what comes out through the interactions. However, there are some key areas that often draw people to want to attend an EFL session. Elements such as communication, leadership, confidence, teamwork and empowerment have very powerful outcomes through EFL – for example working together as a team to guide a horse successfully round obstacles to explore communication and teamwork; leading a horse gives you insights into leadership and also is incredible for confidence; exploring your goals and how to work towards them through the interactions with the horses is amazingly empowering. Groups with a specific focus, for example women’s development groups, can also find the experience of EFL greatly beneficial, working on areas such as leadership development, confidence, assertiveness and self-belief.

The environment itself is also a huge benefit within EFL, working outdoors has been proven to have a positive impact on wellbeing, coupled with the cortisol-lowering effect of connecting with horses through a simple activity such as grooming. Therefore the reduction of stress, whether a primary or secondary focus of the session, is hugely important within EFL.

Lastly, EFL brings fun and enjoyment! People love being around horses and working together on different activities can be a fun way to bring a team together, especially if people are working remotely. Connecting over an activity and having fun together is hugely beneficial for team cohesion and development, as well as morale.


How did EFL evolve? What’s the history behind it?

Working alongside horses has been documented back with the Ancient Greeks, who mention therapeutic riding, and the healing power of horses has been seen throughout the centuries. More recently, the area of Equine Therapy has greatly grown in popularity, and most people recognise this as an area of benefit to different groups, for example children with additional needs or disabilities. Equine Facilitated Learning is lesser-known but is a growing area itself, as many EFL facilitators and centres develop their work and have broadened the reach of horse-led interventions to include working with groups of adults in different settings, including businesses and community groups.


What is the training to be qualified as an EFL trainer?

EFL is currently an unregulated area, and as such there is an array of different qualifications available, from one-day courses to longer programmes of qualification. Anyone looking for a qualification should spend some time exploring the options and considering what works best for their needs – for example how does this fit alongside any existing qualifications/areas of expertise, is the focus on practice or theory, is the qualification recognised by an accrediting body, what support do they give post-qualification. As in any other area of personal and professional development, working with an EFL trainer whose qualification fits your requirements is an important question to ask.

Claire Burgess
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Claire Burgess

Claire runs a business training and coaching organisation based in North Northamptonshire. She specialises in working with women and has a passion for supporting women to reach their potential in their careers and develop their leadership skills. She has a Masters in Occupational Psychology and recently achieved a Diploma in Equine Facilitated Learning, partnering with a local stables to offer development days in EFL for groups of women wanting to reach their potential, and for teams who want to re-connect and work more effectively.