You likely have heard of dogs as emotional support animals, but have you heard of therapy horses?
Those who have experience with horses can tell you that being in a barn grooming, feeding and caring for horses helps relieve stress. Research shows it also lowers blood pressure and improves overall health. Equine therapy benefits people with many mental health concerns.
What is Equine Therapy?
Local horse clubs, church groups, or trainers don’t run equine-assisted therapy. It also doesn’t necessarily involve riding a horse. Instead, it’s an experiential therapy in which an equine therapist walks you through activities and interactions with horses. In equine therapy, you interact with horses as a way of making connections. For example, you may provide care by grooming or feeding a horse. You also may learn how to harness or lead a horse around a small area.
By making a personal connection with a nonjudgmental animal, you can gain empathy and independence while increasing your impulse control. You also may increase your threshold for stress.
Therapists observe and interact with you to identify maladaptive behavior patterns and to help you process thoughts and emotions that may arise.
What Does This Type of Therapy Treat?
Equine therapy benefits can be vast for a variety of different mental health conditions. Because horses demonstrate the ability to make personal connections with individuals, they are valuable in family or group therapy. Counselors may also use equine therapy for team-building.
Conditions that benefit from equine therapy include:
- Behavioral Problems
- Eating Disorders
Benefits of Equine Therapy
Various therapies tend to serve people better than any one type alone. Experiential activities, including equine-assisted therapy, provide more meaningful mental health gains than traditional talk therapy alone.
- Improved Self Image. Because of their size, many people are afraid of working with horses. Caring for these animals takes work in more ways than one. Physically, caring for horses is an excellent way to build a solid work ethic. It can help give you a sense of purpose, improving your self-image. Emotionally, working with horses requires courage, patience, and understanding. Seeing the connection deepen over time between you and a horse can increase your confidence.
- Increased Empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share another’s feelings. As herd animals, horses can sense and assimilate the feelings of other horses and people. Their survival depends on sensing any disturbances in their environment. If you approach a horse while you are angry, it will react, becoming irritated and stubborn. If you are emotionally distraught, a horse will sense that and also feel distraught. You can’t hide your feelings around them.
- Assertiveness. Horses look for leadership. You can’t force them into cooperation. Learning to be less passive by stepping up and becoming a leader is essential when working with horses. At the same time, they can sense when a person is too aggressive. They will directly react to this scenario by becoming restless, for example.
- Stress Tolerance. Equine-assisted therapy requires people to be calm, centered, focused, and fully engaged. Horses can teach mindfulness, which can help you observe your momentary thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and sensations. This mindfulness helps you to tolerate stress, as you are not reacting to these fleeting emotions.
- Impulse Control. Equine therapy benefits people who struggle with impulse control and emotional regulation. The need to communicate with a horse calmly promotes emotional awareness, emotion regulation, self-control, and impulse control. It’s effective in reducing irritability, agitation, and impulsivity. Equine-assisted therapy increases cooperation, emotional regulation, capacity for delay, and behavioral control.
Equine Therapy at Integrative Life Center
Equine-assisted therapy can be a powerful way to assist those with mental health conditions become the best version of themselves. Equine therapy at Integrative Life Center allows clients to participate in “feet on the ground” interactions with horses. With the guidance and support of our clinical team, clients develop self-confidence, problem-solving skills, and teamwork. Contact Integrative Life Center to learn more about equine therapy.