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Equine-Assisted Therapy: How Horses Help Heal Humans

Mother and daughter in a field playing with a horse

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.

Beautiful white horse at farm looks elegant and tranquil
Beautiful white horse at farm

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.

Cognitive 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.

Play Therapy

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.

Interactive Activities

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.

53 thoughts on “Equine-Assisted Therapy: How Horses Help Heal Humans

  1. thanks for the info

    1. Yes, I love this!!! Horse therapy for my Army veteran husband’s PTSD is the best, most effective form yet!

    2. That’s amazing that horses can help people who have traumas

  2. More great advice, especially that of how horses can be therapeutic for humans.

  3. This kind of theraphy should more accessible here in Brazil…

  4. This kind of therapy is really effective. It should be more accessible here in Brazil

  5. Thanks for the info

  6. Horses truly are the best therapy for your soul. The sheer fact they can communicate with emotions is everything. They give you confidence, strength and most of all horses heal. I wouldn’t still be alive if it wasn’t for my horses. 😻

  7. Interesting therapy, connection with animals and nature is proven to help.

  8. Interesting read. It’s amazing the power of animals.

  9. I belive it! My horse and I were really close. Now I have my cat and she is my ESA support animal.

  10. I majored in Equine studies in college focusing on Therapeutic Riding! Such an awesome program!

  11. Excellent information. My first horse was key in helping me when I was diagnosed with Diabetes when I was twelve. Bonding with her, made life much easier.

  12. Yes they are very therapeutic,calming and definitely receive stress and anxiety. Horses are very gentle ,beautiful animals.

  13. Very in

  14. My grandpa had horses and they are gentle giants, they have such strong sense of love, sadness, confusion, happiness they feel your feelings, they can help heal you as you can help heal them

  15. really useful infos

  16. I think everyone has there own source of animal that heals them.

  17. Thanks

    1. Really interesting! Thanks.

  18. I can see how spending time with horses would provide therapy. Animals can provide much needed companionship!

  19. This is so true, and I speak from experience. The equine therapy was one of my favorite things we did when I was in rehab. There is so much to learn when working with horses.

  20. Very interesting information

  21. I really felt this way when I got to ride a horse in Dominican Republic! So exciting and calming at the same time

  22. Fascinating. Thank you!

  23. That’s great that horses are among the best animals for trauma and PTSD. I didn’t know that.

  24. How did we earn animals- any animals are great for therapy

  25. I’ve always thought it’s amazing how animals can help people with traumas and other problems!

  26. Horses are definitely therapeutic!

  27. Agree with this, good article

  28. Definitely can vouch for this, they can do wonders!

  29. Interesting method of therapy.

  30. Horses and all animals are great for relieving stress

  31. Trust is never easy after a major trauma. Indeed!

  32. amazing

  33. cool

  34. The relationship between horses and humans has been a topic of discussions for centuries. Thanks for the reminder.

  35. The benefits of equine assisted therapy is incredible, notably in psychological disabilities and illness!

  36. I am a firm believer in this!

  37. Nice job!

  38. Great information!

  39. My friend Sydney has anxiety but horse-riding 100% helps her on tough days! A great read!

  40. I’ve always been so interesting in equine therapy to help heal trauma. I’d definitely like to get involved with it in the future.

  41. Great article, great info, thanks.

  42. The horse has been a friend of mind.

  43. My brother has Down Syndrome. I wonder if equine therapy could be beneficial to him.

  44. I think all animals are calming even to watch , I can see that horses would be great therapy

  45. i so get this..they help alot

  46. amazing thank you

  47. How wonderful. So many healing benefits!

  48. My son was able to do two sessions with a horse through our local therapeutic riding association. Unfortunately he pulled a groin muscle badly after the second session and had to go through long recovery and was not able to do it again.

  49. Horses can heal.

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