Heart before the horse | ParkRecord.com

Heart before the horse

Alisha Self, Of the Record staff

The National Ability Center (NAC) has offered horseback riding as part of its recreational programs for more than two decades. In recent years, supporters have ponied up the funds to facilitate additional equine opportunities for both NAC participants and the community at large.

For example, the center offers hippotherapy in addition to its therapeutic riding program, and last year it added two wild mustangs to its brood.

This week, the equine team will crack the whip on its newest program, Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL). The community is invited to experience EFL at a demonstration at the NAC Bronfman Family Recreation Center and Ranch on Friday, Feb. 19, from 6 to 8 p.m.

What is EFL? According to AbbyJane Ferrin, who is managing the NAC’s program, "It’s an experiential approach to learning more about yourself and how you operate with the world around you."

Ferrin says the learning model is rapidly gaining popularity at therapeutic riding centers, especially in the eastern U.S. "We want to bring it out West," she says. "We think it can benefit a wide variety of people and it will also benefit us to have a little more diversity in our programming."

EFL entails working with horses on the ground instead of riding them. "It involves going through a variety of activities with the horse to promote learning in different areas including teamwork, communication, leadership skills, social skills, work ethic, creative thinking and cooperation," Ferrin explains.

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During EFL sessions, the horse may be on or off a lead rope for activities in the arena or round pen. Interacting with the horses and learning to read their body language and signals helps the participants learn about themselves and how they communicate with others.

Ferrin stresses that EFL is a learning program and is not considered mental health therapy or counseling. She also emphasizes that the program is for anyone, not just people with disabilities. It is applicable to a wide variety of people, from individuals to families and business teams, she says.

"One of the big things we’re really excited about is hosting staff retreats for businesses and companies," she adds. "It’s very effective for people to see what their M.O. is and how they come across when they are trying to accomplish something it really helps them see how they operate and make the changes they need to."

The NAC’s program consists of four major areas: team building (geared toward businesses and organizations), self-development (for individuals who want to learn more about how they influence others), groups and retreats (ideal for families and support groups) and youth programs.

As long as someone can follow basic directions and safety precautions, they can benefit from EFL, Ferrin says.

Eventually, she adds, the NAC hopes to bring in a mental health professional for equine facilitated psychotherapy. That way the program could expand to specifically address mental health disorders and issues.

Those who are having a hard time envisioning how EFL works are encouraged to attend the demonstration on Friday. "It’s easy to understand if you see it," Ferrin says. "The demo will be an experiential, hands-on session and people will be able to see what it looks like and how it could be applicable to their specific needs."

To RSVP for the EFL demo, please email Ferrin at

abbyf@DiscoverNAC.org or call (435) 200-0992.