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Equine Therapy

What is Equine Therapy?

Equine therapy, better described as equine-assisted therapy, is an experiential therapy modality that helps teens develop crucial skills while tapping into the therapeutic effects of caring for another being – in this case, a horse.

Equine therapy utilizes controlled interactions with horses to foster and build a teen’s emotional and behavioral well-being, while forming a positive bond between a teen client and the horse. Horses, like many other domesticated animals, have played a crucial role in human history for thousands of years. Today’s horses are a direct result of human involvement. They are much larger than their ancient counterparts and bred for transport and companionship. As such, modern horses also share a unique bond with humans, like the evolutionary bond between humans and dogs.

Equine therapy is rarely used as a solo treatment modality. Instead, it is usually part of a larger treatment plan alongside a separate talk therapy session, as well as other treatment elements, such as medication.

What Are the Benefits of Equine Therapy?

Not all teens will respond well to equine therapy. But for teens who do well among animals – particularly if they tend to do better among animals than humans – equine therapy can be a powerful tool to help improve a teen’s communicative skills, explain the importance of physical and emotional boundaries, create a foundation for better self-esteem and personal confidence, and provide a healthy, positive outlet for stress. The benefits of equine therapy include:

  • Emotional Regulation: Working with a horse can be frightening, exciting, calming. Teens need to learn to manage their emotions and become aware of how they affect their behavior when in front of an animal as perceptive as a horse, to avoid spooking or discomforting the horse.
  • Better Self-Awareness: As a therapeutic activity, taking care of an animal in a controlled environment can give teens a chance for self-reflection, and help them gain a better insight into their own thought processes. They can learn to reflect on how they felt during an equine therapy session and use the calming activities to think about their anxieties and stressors in a more constructive and positive way.
  • Trust and Communication Skills: Caring for a large animal such as a horse requires a degree of trust. Horses will not let you work with them if they don’t want you to. Learning to respect the animal’s boundaries and communicate with it, especially non-verbally, is important.
  • Stress Reduction: Whether it’s riding or grooming, animals like horses can give off a calming presence, especially for anxious teens. This can be a valuable source of stress reduction.
  • Enhanced Confidence and Self-Esteem: It is not easy to ride a horse, especially at first. Nor is it is easy to take care of one. Developing and honing these skills – especially when taken to the next level, in the form of dressage or vaulting – can greatly increase a teen’s self-confidence and self-esteem in a positive way.
  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness is little more than being focused on the task at hand, and being in better control of your thoughts – avoiding rumination and errant anxieties. Activities that occupy the mind and body, such as horse riding, can be an excellent tool for practicing positive mindfulness.
  • Cooperation and Teamwork: Horses require a degree of teamwork. Not only are you working with your therapist and a professional handler, but with the horse themselves. There are rules to follow, and consequences to breaking the implicit trust that a person or animal may afford to you upon your first meeting. Equine therapy helps lean into a teen’s natural sense of compassion and respect, and further foster it.
  • Understanding Boundaries: A horse is not a plaything. Respecting a horse’s boundaries is an important part of being a responsible rider, or caretaker. The same goes for other living beings, whether they’re intelligent non-humans, or other people.
  • Therapeutic Animal Bond: There are studies looking deeper into the evolutionary bond between humans and domesticated animals, and the emotional benefits of these bonds. Spending time with animals can help calm us, make us happier, soothe our anxieties, and improve our mood.
  • Pairs with Talk Therapy: Equine therapy is not a solo treatment, but works excellently as an ancillary modality with other treatment options, especially individual talk therapy.

What Does Equine Therapy Look Like?

The central element of equine therapy is, of course, the horse. Horses are specially chosen by handlers and therapists to assist in the treatment of an individual.

Horse riding may or may not part of the equine therapy process, but more important are the various interactions that involve taking care of the horse – such as brushing, washing, maintaining riding equipment, leading, or walking the horse, and techniques of engagement (such as petting or feeding) to learn and understand the animal’s boundaries, likes, and dislikes.

Riding-based elements include riding in an enclosed space with the assistance of an equestrian, playing games while on horseback, learning to move at different paces with the horse, participating in group rides, or even vaulting, dressage, and equestrian sports.

In addition to working with an equestrian and a trained horse handler, clients will wear protective gear (helmet), especially if they aren’t accustomed to horses. If a teen isn’t ready to ride, they can still benefit from equine therapy through various non-riding activities and interactions.

Equine Therapy at the Arrow House

We at the Arrow House provide equine therapy as a potential modality for teens who feel compatible and comfortable with animals and may benefit from interacting with an animal as part of their treatment plan.

Equine therapy at the Arrow House can help boost a teen’s self-esteem while teaching them about the importance of interpersonal space and boundary setting, building trust, and taking responsibility for others. Riding or taking care of a horse can also be a therapeutic activity in and of itself, which can translate into improved focus and mindfulness in other facets of life, or develop into a loved coping activity for times of stress.

If you want to learn more about our experiential therapies, including equine therapy, give us a call at 657.282.4263.