What Is Equine Therapy?

Equine therapy can involve more than just riding the horse. In some sessions, a client might not even touch the horse at all. Often the therapist leading the session will set goals for the client to complete, such as leading the horse to a designated area or putting a halter on the horse. The client will complete the task to the best of their ability and then discuss the thought process, ideas and problem solving used to complete the task. Discussing what the client is doing at a given time allows them to improve language skills. Listening to the instructor helps improve the individuals ability to listen and follow directions, ask questions, etc. Not only is there communication between the handler and the instructor, but also between the handler and the horse.  This skill becomes especially helpful for those who are struggling with anxiety as often times they are stuck in worry about the past, or catastrophic thinking about the future.  This activity encourages a person to be present and focused on the task at hand. Equine Therapy is often used as a team building exercise or in family or group therapy because horses also show interpersonal behavior. Also, because equine therapy is often goal oriented, it allows the group to work together to achieve a common goal.


Why Horses?

Unlike smaller therapy animals like dogs and cats, these gentle giants have a calming effect that’s magnified by their size and empathy. Horses are herd animals known for attuning themselves to human emotion, often reflecting the behaviours of those around them. For people building confidence, learning to lead around animals that loom over them can help improve self-esteem, encourage taking control, and addresses fears they feel are bigger than them. Horses are large, imposing animals that can weigh anywhere from several hundred to 1,000 pounds. They’re also social animals, just like humans, and they have defined roles within their herds. Horses have distinct personalities, moods and attitudes. If you ever doubted this, just watch an interaction between a person and a horse. What works with one horse will not necessarily work with another. A horse may seem stubborn and defiant, or playful and fun. In fact, they like to have fun, and they like to be with their peers.

 

HORSES: LOW-STRESS SOCIAL INTERACTION

For patients who struggle with social interactions, working with a horse gives them much-needed practice. The bottom line? When done correctly, it can be easier to create a healthy, successful working relationship with a horse, than it is with most people.   In doing so, a person can also develop or improve their responsibility, self-confidence and self-respect. They may also learn how to bring trust to relationships by learning to trust the horse during therapy. After a patient with emotional/social issues practices on a horse, they get help translating their success into interacting with people. Many horse characteristics can be identifiable to individuals including the instincts of play, curiosity, freedom and social drive. Play therapy allows and inspires creating relationships and setting limits. Story telling encourages developing stories about what the animal is thinking and conveying emotion. This is a great tool for encouraging the development of language skill and creativity.

beneficial feelings of self-esteem, empowerment, patience and trust. Often, patients being treated with EAP have difficulty relating to other human beings, and would not accept closeness with another – but they will with horses. There’s a bond that develops over time with equine-assisted therapy that is profound and natural, according to therapists utilizing the modality.

The Process of Bonding and Healing with Horses
At Equilibrium at The Ranch Equine-assisted therapy typically occurs one on one or with family members. The process generally involves establishing a presence with the horse and gradually nurturing that relationship. This may or may not involve actual riding of the horse, but does involve grooming, and experiential exercises. To effectively communicate with a horse involves a lot of patience, consistency, attention and understanding. Horses are sensitive to mood, and have moods of their own. Horses, are honest – and this makes them valuable assets in helping patients develop necessary non-verbal communication skills. This requires the patient to get outside their self, to respond to the horse with affection and attention. The result is that the horse will respond in a similar fashion.

 

The bond that develops between horse and patient involves:

Affection
Assertiveness
Communication skills
Confidence
Empathy
Mutual trust
Respect
Responsibility
Self-control
Unconditional acceptance

Who Uses Horse Therapy?
  • PTSD Sufferers: Veterans, first responders, and domestic abuse survivors are among those who say they’ve found relief for PTSD symptoms through therapeutic riding. 

  • Autism: Riding can be a getaway away from overwhelming everyday life which can benefit those dealing with sensory overload. 

  • Mood Disorders: Horse therapy programs often specialize in improving mood and facilitate relaxation, which can help those living with depression, anxiety, anger management, and grief.

  • People Who Don’t Like Talk Therapy:For people who are non-verbal or don’t like chatty counselors, speech isn’t necessary to get along with a four-legged shrink.