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Equine Therapy: Benefits and Uses

equine therapy

In recent years, emotional support animals have become a widely accepted form of therapy but what about equine therapy? While you may be cognizant of the emotional benefits of having a beloved cat or dog, perhaps you’ve never even been around a horse. Even more likely, you are probably not familiar with the therapeutic benefits equine therapy offers to those learning to cope with addiction, depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns. 

Many people unfamiliar with equine therapy have a lot of questions like: What exactly are the benefits? Could equine therapy be beneficial for you? Do you need to know a lot about horses to participate? 

How Equine-Assisted Therapy Works

Picturesque mountain ranges, beautiful, shining coats, and the calming feeling of being near an animal – sounds like a pretty great way to spend an afternoon. While there is obviously a bit more that goes into Equine-Assisted Therapy, which is the official term for therapeutic activity involving horses, the setting certainly puts you at ease right away.

Why Horses?

Horses are often described as majestic creatures. Their large stature and powerful movements could be intimidating, or even frightening to some. However, for those people who have ever known and loved a horse, the benefits are clear: their attitude of non-judgement towards all humans, regardless of mental, emotional, or physical struggles, rings true. 

Therapy involving horses also provides a great opportunity for feedback directly from an unbiased third party: the horse itself. The horse’s nature is to mirror your behavior and emotions, providing a sense of self-evaluation. This process can happen almost immediately when you meet a horse!

For example, if you are having difficulty identifying an emotion in a session of therapy, it might be very difficult to see the impact of your emotion on those around you, or even how it is affecting you. Your therapist might encourage you to try to identify these feelings, but without direct feedback, this might be frustrating. 

However, if you approach a horse feeling hostile or angry, the horse might shy away or become agitated – this is in his nature as a survival mechanism. You receive immediate feedback which allows you to reflect on your approach. This recognition in itself can be extremely therapeutic – and you didn’t even get on the horse yet. 

Anxiety and Equine Therapy

Having responsibility, even for a short amount of time, for the care of an animal can illuminate a person’s ability to show love and care. Caring for, grooming, cleaning up after, or simply spending time in the presence of horses can elicit an empathetic response from both the animal and the person caring for it. 

For those experiencing anxiety, horses can reflect understanding. Their nature is to respond to potential threats with a keen awareness, much like an individual suffering from exhausting bouts of anxiety. 

Trying new things might evoke feelings of anxiety or exacerbate a person’s issues surrounding anxiety. However, there are immense benefits to going through the process of learning news skills, connecting with a new phenomenon, and being in a safe environment. In fact, working on facilitating calm thoughts during anxious moments can be a key factor in treating anxiety disorders. Equine therapy can provide an innovative way to experience growth. 

Additionally, horses, horse riding, and caring for horses can also be a very welcome change of scenery. Instead of dealing with anxiety within a counseling space or in a group, someone might truly enjoy connecting with horses in a novel and therapeutic way.

equine therapy programs

Addiction and Equine Therapy

For those in the midst of recovering from substance use disorder, Equine therapy is a great therapeutic treatment. Studies have shown that people utilizing Equine – Assisted Therapy for substance use disorders found that the relationship created with the horse they were caring for had a significantly positive effect on their self-concept and helped create a new kind of emotional support system. People struggling with addiction issues might have a skewed view of themselves. The love of an animal has the potential to make an enormous impact.

In addition to assistance with support systems and a more positive self-concept, Equine Therapy could also provide a great way to engage in a fun, healthy activity. Riding horses provides fantastic physical exercise. Sometimes, simply being outside and with nature can drastically improve your mood.  

Mental health experts note that self-awareness is a critical component of many different types of therapy for many different types of issues, but specifically for those suffering from substance use disorders. Having a gentle giant providing immediate feedback to you current emotions, behaviors, and temperament can help develop a stronger sense of self-awareness that might be key to your recovery.

Application of Equine Therapy

Equine Therapy might look like several different things for different people depending on their specific needs. For someone that doesn’t want to ride horses, maybe they engage in some grooming, feeding, and other types of care for horses. Stroking a horse’s mane or flank provides a safe physical touch from an empathetic animal.

Perhaps you would be more of a thrill-seeker, and would want to take your horse for a long trail ride, appreciating the beauty of nature and your animal all within the same moment. For others still, simply engaging in a new activity can provide enough inspiration for a small (or large) breakthrough.

Equine Therapy has even been used in therapeutic group activities, such as in the program at the Integrative Life Center. Because horses can provide an empathetic connection, feedback, and a sense of calm, people interested in couples or family counseling might greatly benefit by looking into an Equine-Assisted Therapy program.

Equine Therapy at ILC

Equine Therapy at Integrative Life Center is a robust, innovative program that has been useful for many treatment concerns. A specialist at ILC can walk you through the process of what a session of Equine Therapy might look like. Taking into account your individual needs, issues, and goals, they would help devise sessions that best fit your needs while you continue on in your personal mental health journey. Reach out to a member of the team to schedule a consultation and take a step towards experiencing the benefits of Equine Therapy. 


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