Equine Therapy: Horses Helping With Mental Health

equine therapy

Horses have had many uses throughout history, but equine therapy is one of the many incredible things horses can do. From war veterans to those with disabilities, horses are here to help with mental health! 

Horses are well known for their many amazing abilities. However, their therapeutic talents are some of the most mesmerizing. Not only do they help with the healing process, they encourage trust, courage and freedom. Needless to say, equine therapy has huge benefits that everyone can take advantage of.

Earlier this month, we saw many war veterans return from Afghanistan. Many of these soldiers have experienced extreme tragedy and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of these vets have chosen equine therapy as their preferred treatment.

Additionally, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many frontline workers have chosen equine therapy to relieve stress and improve mental health. Not only is this type of therapy generally cheaper than many regular treatments, it also has to potential to be completely life changing.

Equine Therapy

Equine therapy is an umbrella term that covers a range of treatments that all involve activities with horses. This therapy is different from sitting in a doctors office because it involves physical activity and creating relationships between person and horse.

Origins & History

Horse therapy is also known as equine-assisted therapy (EAT) and it’s origins date back to ancient Greece. in the 1960s therapeutic riding was introduced to Canada and America by riders who claimed that it helped them recover from illness and injury. This type of therapy has been recognized and highly revered for it’s amazing affects on mental health.

Many people who choose equine-assisted therapy suffer from mental illness and disabilities. Not only does it promote trust between human and animal, it helps with communication, impulse control, social skills and perspective. Along with horses, dogs and cats have also been used for therapy. However, horses have the ability to mirror the feelings of their handler which helps provide immediate feedback to the rider.

How Does Horse Therapy Work?

Therapists say that the rhythm of a horse can help stimulate muscles, the spine and brain. Equine  therapy assists with motor skills, balance, coordination, rehabilitation and promotes trust. There are several forms of horse therapy as well. Some people prefer to stay on the ground and they choose to take on activities like grooming, feeding, walking and petting. However, those who choose to get on the horse can do obstacle courses, trotting, carriage driving and more.

Who Can Use Equine Therapy?

Anyone seeking an alternative to regular therapy treatments can choose equine therapy. However, there are some individuals who especially thrive through horse therapy.

  • PTSD Sufferers – Veterans, trauma patients, first respondents, and domestic abuse survivors for example can benefit from horse therapy.
  • Movement Disorders – The cadence of the horse benefits those with movement disorders like cerebral palsy.
  • Autism – Riding can be a  type of escape from the overwhelming day-to-day that many people with autism experience. Those who deal with sensory overload can often find relief through equine therapy.
  • Mood Disorders – Horse back riding helps to improve mood and enhance relaxation which helps those living with anxiety and depression. Additionally, this type of therapy helps with anger management and grief.
  • At-Risk Youth – Many equine-assisted therapy clinics offer programs for at-risk youth. Especially for kids at risk of substance abuse or in need of recovery.
  • Alternative For Talk Therapy – For many people, speaking to a doctor can be extremely difficult. For these individuals, horses come in useful because there is little to no talking involved. The relationship between person and horse doesn’t need words.

Benefits Of Equine Therapy

These gentle giants offer a calming energy that helps almost anyone feel at ease when in their presence. Despite their size, horses have huge amounts of empathy that surround them. Here are just some of the many benefits from equine therapy.

Reduced Anxiety & Depression

Equine-assisted therapy helps to decrease the negative symptoms that come with anxiety and depression. It helps us to escape intrusive thoughts that can then send us into a spiral of anxiety, depression and panic. Many participants report feeling relieved and having a greater mental wellbeing after only 6 months of horse back riding.

Increased Trust

Horses are herd animals and are very attuned to the emotions of others. They often take on the emotions of those around them. For people who have difficulties trusting others, this type of therapy can help them build bonds and relationships much easier. It encourages them to address their fears and take control of a situation.

Increase Confidence and Self-Esteem.

These are big animals, being able to even just be around one often takes a level of courage and bravery. Being around horses and riding them can increase confidence and improve self-esteem. Learning to lead these animals around can encourage action taking and allows us to address fears.

Improving Communication Skills

Equine-assisted therapy helps us build our communication skills in both verbal and non-verbal ways. When riding a horse we receive positive or negative feedback instantly. This then inspires quick thinking and communication that builds assertiveness and engagement.

Overcoming Negative, Self-Sabotaging Thoughts

Horses are very sensitive and they often take on the emotions of their handlers or riders. When we are stressed or having negative thoughts, the horse in turn may also feel stressed. This helps us with these self-sabotaging thoughts by removing our selves from inside our heads and onto the horse. We learn to take accountability and problem solve when we are riding a horse.

Bottom Line

Equine therapy offers an alternative to regular mental/physical health treatment. It is offers unconditional acceptance and an unspoken bond between human and animal. Riding horses allows us to escape our inner thoughts to focus on communicating with the horse. It is especially useful for those who are seeking non-verbal therapy treatments.

When looking for a horse therapist, ask questions about the treatment before enrolling. Look for credentials, expertise and testimonials that prove their trustworthiness.


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