Equine-assisted Therapy

Horses are gentle creatures. Not only can they be used for sporting events, people often use horses for therapy. Children who are diagnosed with autism, or adults who are dealing with substance abuse, behavior disorders, mood disorders and other illnesses are participants in equine therapy. There are many mental and physical health benefits to equine therapy.

Equine therapy is usually assisted by a mental health professional, often with the support of a horse professional. During the activity and after the activity, the equine therapist can often observe the patient and break down their behaviors to identify behavior patterns and process thoughts and emotions.  The goal of equine therapy is to help the patient develop needed skills and attributes such as accountability, responsibility and self-control.

Many benefits of equine therapy are likely due to the nature of the animal. Horses are typically nonjudgmental, have no preconceived notions or motives, and are highly effective of mirroring behaviors or attitudes of the humans they are working with.

Equine-assisted Therapy

Benefits of equine therapy

              Horses can be trained to work with sensitive individuals who are suffering from all types of illnesses and diseases. Horses are intuitive, and they can sense the emotions of people around them. They respond to facial expressions and body language. If a person is distressed, a horse will pick up on that, and try to calm the person down by comforting them. Just like dogs and other pets, horses can be trained as emotional support animals for those in need.

              I’ve always been very wary of horses. When I was very young, my grandfather lived on a farm with tons of horses, and I spent my childhood learning to ride. When I got older, my grandfather was bucked off from his horse and broke his back. He spent six months in the hospital recovering. That had a huge impact on how I felt about horses. I saw them as dangerous, huge creatures that could turn on you in an instant. I didn’t understand who people would continue to ride if there was such as risk. The several years following that event, I stayed as far away from horses as possible.

              When I was in high school, my entire family went on vacation together. My mom expressed to me that everyone wanted to go horseback riding on local trail. At first I blatantly refused. There was no way that I was getting back on a horse. I just was not going and that was that. After a lot of convincing, my mom suggested that I just go and check it out, and see how I feel.

              The woman in charge of the horses was amazing at getting me to open up around the horses. She gave me a handful of baby carrot to feed to them, and told me to walk towards them calmly and with my hand open to show them the treats. I finally worked up the courage to slowly make my way over to the smallest horse in the stall. He quickly gobbled up my offering and shook out his long mane. After about twenty minutes, the woman told me it was time to finally, “get back on the horse.”

              I was shocked to learn how natural it felt for me to get, “back on the saddle.” Instantly I felt a sense of control of both myself and the horse. My fears slowly melted away as more time passed. By the end, I was even getting the horse to do a quick trot. I went from being absolutely terrified of horses to learning to love them. If I never would have given these precious animals a second chance, I never would have been able to have this amazing experience.

              I never wanted the trail to end. Riding that horse made me feel more at peace than I have felt in a very long time.

Equine-assisted Therapy

Equine therapy during addiction recovery

              I had first heard about equine therapy during the popular Nicolas Sparks movie, “Dear John,” where the main female character aspires to one day open up a horse camp for kids who fall on the spectrum of having autism. I was quite intrigued after learning that this was even possible, because before then I had assumed that nervous and shy children would not do well with horses.

              Of course, “Dear John,” is just a movie, but I think the message was still clear. Using animals in therapy can be very beneficial to all people involved. The university that I attend puts out “therapy puppies” twice a year during finals to help overwhelmed and stressed students. People use therapy dogs for panic attacks on airplanes, for claustrophobia in big crowds, and they can even be trained to spot the signs of a seizure or other medical attack.

              During addiction recovery, equine therapy can be very beneficial. At a rehab care facility, recovering addicts can use many different types of holistic forms of therapy such as equine therapy, art therapy, and music therapy. In art therapy, recovering addicts can use painting, sculpting, and much more to express their emotions, keep themselves busy, and further connect to the self. There is also group and individual therapy in rehab care facilities.

Holistic approach to treating addiction

Equine-assisted Therapy

              Addiction treatment comes in many forms. There is the conventional side of care, where patients are typically treated with traditional forms of medical care like medication. When it comes to holistic care, doctors and patients work together to improve the overall sense of wellbeing of an individual. When an individual is seeking care for any type of addiction, they can utilize the many different types of therapy available right at their fingertips. If you feel as though you are suffering, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

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