When one talks about mental health treatments, the last thing that could possibly come to mind is horseback riding. Yet equine-assisted therapy is becoming a good therapeutic step that brings with it a myriad of benefits.
Horses Can Help Heal People Overcoming Obstacles, Trauma and Relieve Anxiety
Between being a leisure sport and an ultimately new experience for a lot of people, an activity done with horses may not seem to be the same as talking with a therapist. Still, the evidence is clear, individuals who suffer from anxiety and trauma can find that horses can be their best friend and therapist towards walking the path of healing.
Going Through the Hoops of Horse Therapy
When faced with the intriguing power of horses, it’s easy to assume that they cannot handle sensitive issues such as trauma and anxiety. Some may fear not being able to handle a horse on the first try. Some may feel that horses spook easily and can become more dangerous than therapeutic.
Yet alongside that powerful stance is a sensitive creature that provides a mirror into one’s soul. Because one ride may be enough to show a person the extent of the reach of the help they can provide you. In equine-facilitated therapy, the benefits run from reducing anxiety to helping a person heal from a traumatic experience.
Two Therapists in a Single Session
One can think of equine-assisted therapy as having two kinds of therapies. On the one hand, this kind of therapy cannot be done without the supervision of a medical professional, such as a psychotherapist. Then there is the horse, which has become a very popular animal for therapy. While other animals do provide a sense of relief and companionship, horses hold a big advantage over them.
Horses have the ability to mirror feelings back to their handlers the moment they interact. By mirroring these feelings and providing feedback, they immediately dissolve the barrier between them and the people who avail of the therapy.
Feeling Deeply, Encouraging Trust Thoroughly
Horses can be seen as a paradox in their own right. They are large creatures, sturdy and awe-inspiring. Yet they are also very sensitive to the point that they may know what you are feeling—sometimes even more accurately than you do.
This is because horses are creatures of a group; they tend to feel what those around them are feeling. In turn, they reflect these feelings so that they can aptly respond to the situation.
Interestingly, horses also embody certain qualities and traits that people suffering from anxiety and trauma tend to experience. They are vigilant and sensitive creatures, as if always on the lookout for any possible source of danger. People who live with trauma and have wounds that have yet to heal understand this very same feeling. Horses also tend to be easily spooked when not handled carefully, an experience that people with anxiety can relate to, especially during the worse days.
What Happens in Equine-Assisted Therapy?
The beauty of this approach lies in the variety of activities to be done. Some may assume that it’s all about riding horses, but clients can learn a lot and gain a lot from the experience.
Some days, clients can ride the horse around and feel the rhythm soothe their anxiety physically and mentally. Other days, the client can simply share the space with the horse, with no touching or interactions at all. The therapist decides how the activities will flow, as it should stick with the overall therapeutic flow that is suitable for the client.
Less Anxiety in Life
Anxiety can be lessened through equine-assisted therapy in a number of ways. There are many techniques that can be explored during the sessions. Three areas of this therapeutic approach include cognitive therapy, interactive activities, and play therapy.
This part of the therapy taps into the horse’s ability to sense danger and show heightened awareness of the environment. When this occurs in the context of therapy for anxiety, clients can share in the experience, and then process it with the therapist.
By focusing on the horse’s anxiety, they can talk about anxiety in a safer and more detached manner. Sometimes, this is necessary, especially for individuals who do not yet feel that they are ready to face their own anxieties. They may even be more courageous to face certain issues that they have trouble dealing within themselves. It’s because this time, they can focus on another being’s emotions and dissect it without being overwhelmed or ashamed.
Counseling often involves play therapy for kids or individuals who need another outlet for their emotions beyond verbal communication. Play therapy in the equine-assisted therapy setting lets them enjoy fun activities like horse-riding. This type of therapy can also involve storytelling, allowing the client to explore narratives that may touch on their own emotions without outright putting them and their anxiety on display.
Therapists can also open clients with anxiety to new experiences without taking the control away from them. Some equine-assisted therapy activities can be as simple as grooming horses or as challenging as riding them. The goal is to allow the client to go through the activities at their own pace and still be stimulated towards healing.
Healing From Trauma
Research has shown that horses are among the best animals for trauma and PTSD therapies. Trust is a big issue when dealing with these issues, yet horses have a complicated relationship with trust—just like humans do.
Other animals like dogs can trust a human at the get-go and build the relationship from there. With horses, the entire interaction can plant the seeds towards building relationships. They need to work with their human companions to achieve a level of trust, lest they will continue to feel being in a threatening environment.
This same narrative can be seen in individuals who suffer from trauma. Trust is never easy after a major trauma; it requires healing and reconnecting at one’s own pace. By combining a horse’s tendency to provide feedback and be sensitive to others and the slow but steady building of relationships with equine-assisted therapy, this becomes a stable ground for both parties to find solace with each other.
Comfort and healing are not easy to come by, especially in cases of anxiety and trauma. However, small steps, taken with a companion who shares the same vibe as yourself, can be the biggest progress that one can hope for.