Horses have always been great companions to people, no matter whether they were used for sport, war, transportation, or simply as pets. These animals continue to show us their loyalty, devotion, and love whenever they are given a chance to do so. In the last couple of decades, scientists have been paying more attention to the bond people have with these animals and studied how horses can be used not only to bring joy to our world but also to help us get better when we are ill. Equine-assisted therapy and, more specifically, equine-assisted psychotherapy has proven very useful to treat mental illnesses, addiction, anxiety, and many more problems a modern man faces.
What is equine-assisted psychotherapy?
This is a specialized form of therapy that incorporates horses and it helps people overcome addiction, battle trauma, and regulate emotions, among other things. Despite the fact that patients are working with horses, there is usually no horseback riding involved in the process. Instead, you do a lot of different activities with the horse, such as grooming, walking, and taking care of it. These little actions are what makes this form of therapy so unique and powerful – horses can help you when you simply interact with them and spend time surrounded by them. Of course, in every therapy session, there is a mental health professional with the patient, responsible for overseeing the process and guiding the person.
How does it work?
Equine-assisted psychotherapy is about making a connection with another living being, in this case, with a horse. When it comes to patients who are battling addictions, for example, it is important that they learn that it is possible to form meaningful and powerful connections with others, connections that are stronger than their addiction. Another thing they can learn is how their actions affect others, and how they need to take responsibility. For example, one of the exercises patients often do is walking the horse. The goal is to get the horse to walk with you on its own, without having to pull its rope. This can only happen once you manage to connect with the horse and once you understand the emotions it is trying to convey to you.
Who is it for?
Equine-assisted psychotherapy can be used in many different cases, with all age groups, even small children. Moreover, this kind of therapy is recommended for children and teens that often build walls and have a difficult time opening up to therapists. Like we already mentioned, this process works great for people battling addiction. What’s more, equine-assisted psychotherapy can help with anxiety since it forces the person to remain present and to think about what they are doing. It helps you stay focused and practice mindfulness, as well as control your impulses. This practice is also good for people suffering from PTSD, ADHD, those with aggression problems, low self-esteem, and trust issues.
Many animals are used in different forms of therapies to help patients get better. Horses are great because they offer a safe space for patients to open up and explore experiences that are sometimes too painful to handle in different circumstances. Research has shown that horses have the ability to sense our emotions, but they respond without any bias or judgment which is why patients feel safe with them. When you feel safe enough to become vulnerable with another being, that is usually when the process of healing begins. Moreover, horses usually mirror our behavior which can help patients be more self-aware.