lock plus

Horses and Mental & Health Benefits

Horseback riding is one of the most recommended activities for children of all ages. Horses are kind and compassionate animals. 

However,are you aware of the great mental, and health benefits that being around a horse has for adults? Horses can be excellent companions at supporting emotional growth and promoting personal development in humans of all ages.

Equine Therapy is a form of an experiential animal-assisted psychotherapy,which facilitates in the treatment of many behavioral problems and psychological disorders including ADD, PTSD, autism, depression, anxiety and dementia.

Equine Therapy

Equestrian therapy or horse therapy - is a series of complex ground activities with the horse that are not limited to riding or grooming. Equine Therapy requires a licensed, specially trained therapist to develop and coordinate a goal oriented plan of exercises with the patient and horse. 

Goals are set according to the difficulty level and clients’ expectations. The most basic goal could be as simple as making contact with the horse. Whereas, a difficult goal could be making the horse stay still or move in a particular direction.

With time, goals become more problem specific in order to address special needs of the patients. A person who is suffering from autism, will have different goals, compared to a person who is diagnosed with PTSD. 

For autistic individuals the focus would be toward the enhancement of their communication skills, while PTSD patients would focus on developing desensitization and rethinking techniques.

Types of Equine Therapy

There are 4 types of equine therapy:

  1. Hippotherapy
  2. Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP)
  3. Therapeutic Riding
  4. Equine-Facilitated Learning (EFL)

1.  Hippotherapy

Hippotherapy is also knows as Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT). Unlike therapeutic horseback riding, where riders learn specific riding and rein skills, hippotherapy relies mostly in multidimensional movement of the horse, utilizing physical, occupational and speech therapies in one. 

Patients describe a gradual improvement of their motor skills, balance and posture control. Through its sensory input, EAT treats problems such as low self-esteem, addictions, short attention span and body dysfunctions.

Want to learn more about hippotherapy, then visit the American Hippotherapy Association to read more about how horses are being used by licensed therapists to help people.

2.  Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy

This therapy is best suited for patients who suffer from PTSD, depression, emotional problems, anxiety disorders and mood problems. Through its interactive process, this treatment enhances mental health and functionality. 

The unique relationship formed during the process helps to develop team building and communicational skills, increase confidence and patience.

3.  Therapeutic Riding

This special horseback riding activity focuses on improving social well being, cognition, emotional response and physical performance of the patient. It is best for children who are recovering from a trauma or have Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, speech and language problems. 

Therapeutic riding is also beneficial for physically disabled individuals, since it helps them gain back their independence, freedom and confidence.

4.  Equine-Facilitated Learning

Facilitating the learning and growth process, EFL is for patients who experience difficulties with normal socialization and clear communication. This therapy works best for children and adults diagnosed with autism, bipolar and borderline disorders, ADHD. 

The main goal of the therapy is to assist patients in learning how to interact with others. It also helps to correct various behavioral problems.

It has been clinically proven that being near horses changes the brainwave patterns in humans. These animals tend to have a soothing, relaxing effect on us, which promotes optimistic thinking and empowering. 

Many of the patients who used to be anti-social and carried on unhealthy behavior patterns, with time, became more approachable and perceptive, learned to manage anger and spikes of aggression, became more tolerant and outgoing. The outcome of a patients equine therapy is truly a phenomenon!

It is important to understand the difference between horse riding and equine-psychotherapy.  Many resources are available to those interested in the equine therapy.   In addition the the American Hippotherapy Association, more information can be found online at the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, Inc. (NARHA) and The National Center for Equine Facilitated Therapy (NCEFT).