Galloping towards health with equine-assisted therapy

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A compelling approach to therapy has been gaining traction for its profound impact on emotional, physical and psychological well-being since the 1960s. It’s called equine-assisted therapy and its experiencing a revival. It involves interactions between individuals and horses to foster personal growth, improve self-awareness, and navigate the complexities of life’s challenges.

Equine-assisted therapy is also known as equine-assisted psychotherapy, equine facilitated therapy or sometimes hippotherapy. It involves horses to promote physical, emotional, and cognitive healing. Guided by trained therapists and equine specialists, participants engage in various activities such as grooming, leading, and riding with breakthrough results. Join as we mosey through a few of the remarkable benefits and take the reins through this form of healing.

How does equine-assisted therapy work?

Equine-assisted therapy, also known as horse therapy, is a form of therapy that involves interactions between individuals and horses. This type of therapy is effective in treating a wide range of physical, emotional, and mental health issues.

The working mechanism of therapy is based on the unique bond that can develop between humans and horses. Horses are highly intuitive animals and are known for their ability to sense and respond to human emotions and body language. They are non-judgmental and provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals to explore their feelings and work through challenges.

Equine-assisted therapy typically involves a team of professionals, including licensed therapists and experienced equine specialists. During equine-assisted therapy sessions, individuals engage in various activities with horses, such as grooming, leading, and riding. These activities are designed to promote emotional regulation, self-awareness, and relationship building. The therapist guides the individual through these activities, helping them to identify and address their emotional and behavioural patterns.

Working with horses can have several therapeutic benefits. Firstly, horses can mirror the emotions and behaviours of the individuals they interact with. This mirroring effect allows individuals to gain insights into their emotional states and behavioural patterns. It can also help individuals develop self-awareness and improve their ability to regulate their emotions.

Secondly, horses provide immediate feedback on individuals’ actions and behaviours. If an individual is tense or anxious, the horse may become agitated or resistant. This feedback helps individuals recognise the impact of their emotions and behaviours on others, fostering empathy and improving their social skills. Moreover, the rhythmic and repetitive movements of riding has a calming effect on individuals.

Who will benefit from equine-assisted therapy?

Equine-assisted therapy benefits people of all ages, from children to seniors. It has proven effective in the treatment of:

  • Mood disorders including depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Children and adolescents facing behavioural issues.
  • For the relief of stress and anxiety.
  • To improve low self-esteem.
  • To assist those with interpersonal communication difficulties.
  • For the improvement of those with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, or spinal cord injuries.
  • For people who have tried traditional therapies without success or who are looking for a more holistic approach to their mental health treatment.
  • Anyone looking for personal growth and self-discovery.

People with physical disabilities, developmental disorders, and behavioural issues have all found solace and breakthroughs with their equine partners and benefitted from this type of therapy.

It helps people develop life skills such as communication, leadership, and problem-solving. Horses are amazing teachers. People learn to communicate effectively, understand their emotions, and acquire self-awareness. The therapy also helps clients develop a sense of responsibility, empathy, and trust, which can improve their relationships with others and most importantly, themselves.

Why is equine-assisted therapy recommended?

Why is equine-assisted therapy recommended

Equine-assisted therapy is known to promote emotional well-being. Interacting with horses can help people develop and improve their emotional regulation skills. Horses are highly perceptive animals and can sense human emotions, allowing clients to learn how to manage and regulate their emotions more effectively. This can be particularly useful for people who struggle with anxiety, depression, or who are emotionally volatile.

Horses provide a non-judgmental and unbiased presence, which can help individuals develop trust,  build relationships and improve social skills. Through activities such as grooming, leading, and riding, a person can enhance their communication and interpersonal skills. This can be especially beneficial for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, or people who struggle with social interactions.

The activities involved in working with horses require physical engagement, which can improve coordination, balance, and overall strength. This can be particularly valuable for individuals with physical disabilities or those recovering from physical injuries. This is often referred to as hippotherapy.

The therapeutic benefits of equine-assisted therapy

  1. Emotional expression
    Horses offer a non-judgmental space where individuals can authentically express their emotions, often leading to profound emotional release. Through interactions with horses, individuals can develop emotional awareness, improve self-regulation, and gain a deeper understanding of their own emotional experiences.
  2. Trust and empathy
    Establishing a connection with a horse fosters trust and empathy, vital skills for nurturing healthy relationships with humans. Through working with horses, individuals can develop assertiveness, empathy, and non-verbal communication skills, all of which are crucial for building healthy relationships.
  3. Self-confidence
    Achieving tasks involving horses boosts self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment, transcending into other aspects of life.
  4. Mindfulness
    Working with horses demands presence and mindfulness, helping individuals break free from rumination and anxiety. Through working with horses, individuals can develop assertiveness, empathy, and non-verbal communication skills, all of which are crucial for building healthy relationships.
  5. Healing trauma
    The rhythmic motion of horseback riding and the horse-human connection can aid in healing trauma by promoting relaxation and reducing hyperarousal. It can also help improve balance, coordination, and muscle strength. This therapy can be especially valuable for individuals with physical disabilities or those recovering from injuries.

Deciding when to embark on an equine-assisted therapy journey hinges on individual circumstances. It’s a fitting choice when traditional talk therapy approaches yield limited results or when a more experiential, hands-on approach is sought. Equine-assisted therapy can be particularly useful during life transitions, post-traumatic events, or when one seeks personal growth and introspection.

Equine-assisted therapy is an effective treatment option that can benefit people of all ages. By working with horses, clients can acquire crucial life skills, improve their mental health, and conquer emotional and behavioural challenges. If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health condition or physical disability, equine-assisted therapy may be a helpful treatment option to consider.

References

  1. Equine therapy: Learn how horses help mental and physical health (no date) WebMD. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-equine-therapy-equine-assisted-therapy
  2. Jodi Clarke, M. (2022) Equine therapy as mental health treatment: How it’s used, Verywell Mind. Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/equine-therapy-mental-health-treatment-4177932