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How Horse Therapy Can Aid in Addiction Recovery
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How Horse Therapy Can Aid in Addiction Recovery

Horses are extremely honest animals. They aren’t particularly trusting, will have an attitude with you if they so choose, and won’t hide their intentions. They can be stubborn and feisty animals on one hand, but are the most gentle and emotionally aware animals at the same time. You might have to prove yourself to them and earn their trust, but once you do, you will be rewarded with an animal that wants to please you and will react to your emotions. All of these attributes make them a great asset for addiction treatment and recovery.

Equine Therapy

Equine therapy is the use of horses in therapy in a number of different settings. Horses are used for therapy for all ages from children to the elderly. They are also used in a number of different therapy scenarios including those struggling with addiction, PTSD, mental health disorders, physical restrictions, and many other types of therapy. Due to its therapeutic benefits equine therapy has become a popular tool in many treatment and therapy centers across the United States. Patients spend time socializing with the horses, feeding them, saddling them, and grooming them. This allows patients to build trust, be accountable, and bond with an animal in order to build self-worth as well as self-confidence.

Benefits

The benefits of horse therapy are both mental and physical for many patients. These benefits include a decrease in blood pressure, lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, stress release, and learning patience. Animals in general are great healers and have been proven to make us happier just by being around us. Patients utilizing equine therapy learn how to care for their horse and which types of interactions do not work with a horse and the appropriate way to react to them. Horses are very susceptible to emotions and will pick up the feelings that a patient has when they are around them. A horse’s reaction to a patient will commonly put a mirror in front of the patient and allow them to see the reaction their attitude has on others. You can’t bully a horse, lack confidence in your interactions, or cross their boundaries. Seeing a horse’s honest reaction to their actions is a great way for patient to understand their effect on others.

Behavior

Addicts often go through a series of behavior management sessions while in therapy. Addiction is a brain disease affecting the pleasure and communication centers of the brain and can alter the brain permanently. When addicts learn to rely on a substance for happiness or normalcy, it’s not uncommon for them to undergo feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, and aggression. In order to encourage healthy behaviors and not aggressive or self-destructive ones because of this, patients interact with horses in order to see the horse’s reaction. The horse’s feedback encourages acceptable behavior, lessons on trust, and lessons in respect.

Feelings of shame are extremely common in recovery as well and can lead to depression and guilt. The actions of an addict in the grips of their addiction can be extremely out of character, illegal, and harmful to those around them. It’s important that addicts take responsibility for the mistakes they made while using and understand why it’s common for addicts to lie, steal, and manipulate those around them. Therapy is important for addicts to come to terms and cope with these feelings of guilt; equine therapy is just another tool in patients understanding their worth and their real feelings of compassion and love despite the mistakes they’ve made while using.

For the Horses

Addicts aren’t the only ones benefiting from equine therapy as the horses gain just as much from their relationships as the patients do. Horses are naturally working animals and enjoy pleasing their people. They are well taken care of and many therapy centers make a habit of enlisting older or injured horses for their equine therapy. This is why riding isn’t a necessary aspect to the therapy; taking care of them and interacting with them is more the focus than actually riding them. Social interactions, treats, and grooming sessions are all great for the horses and offer similar physical and mental benefits as they do for the patients. 

Horses won’t hide their feelings, succumb to you just because you have a treat, or be pushed around by anyone. They demand that you earn their trust and it isn’t just given to anyone. This personality trait is one that is helpful for those going through therapy for addiction. If a horse cares for you and trusts you, you’ve done something right and proved yourself to them. This is an incredible boost in morale for those struggling with addiction. On the long journey of recovery the road tends to be long, curvy, and full of bumps, but the road is much easier to travel when you’re on a horse.

 

Author bio: Chelsy is a writer from Montana who is now living in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Montana in 2012. She enjoys going home to Montana, spending time with her animals, and trying new beer.

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  1. jst4horses
    We call our programs therapeutic horsemanship......we utilize Nativenaturalhorsemanship, and have a book out, Carousel Horse, which is an inclusion book for teaching equine therapy for our riders, volunteers, and youth and adults who may NEVER be around a horse at all. In therapy, the horses do the healing..............we have worked with single moms, Mom and Me, Dad and Me, and gang abatement and veteran and first responder programs for PTSD...........as well as being there for addiction programs. We do NOT use our horses as a couch substitute for therapy.......instead we supplement therapy with horses healing. As noted in the article riding is NOT always necessary........However, we DO find that we need REALLY experienced horsemen to work with the horses. We use horses from all categories, we have had horses that are racehorses, currently racing, sent to us for healing work, or to heal from injuries, and many professional rodeo and show or parade horses who are lent to us that give our riders and volunteers a BIG boost as all the horses are not just old and injured. BUT our favorites have often been the old and injured, it helps people to take care of someone else (in this case a horse) We have had terminal cancer patients who just LOVED being loved and taking care of horses they were too ill to ride. We have had seniors in wheel chairs who come out and feed carrots and sit by round corrals and stalls and just TALK, like old people do.........to young people who have had little communication with adults except being asked "what is wrong with YOU". There is so much healing that horses give...........one of my favorite stories is a drug addict who came with a group from his rehab, they were asked to go into the arena and just stand with a group of REALLY well trained therapy horses. Let the horses wander, and as the Dog Whisperer says, no talk, no touch, no eye contact. One of the horses wandered up to a man, and stood there, head on his shoulder............in the talking circle afterwards that man cried, and said it was the first time EVER in his whole life anyone had EVER chosen him for anything.............even his parents who had disappeared when he was a baby..............he had lived his whole life in foster care..........that horse helped heal him...........
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    1. Michelle Francis
      Hi Can you message me please. I could not find your book. Very interested in what you are doing in terms of horse therapy. Thanks. Michelle Francis
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  2. Tlmead
    This is so true. I'm an addict and when I went y o rehab I chose a place that had equin therapy. It did wonders for me. I've been around horses my whole life. But during thevrehab processs it was being able to do something I loved and reassuring myself that I would be able to continue to work with these wonderful animals was what got me thru. I remember the first time I rode sober.... I was nervous til I climbed in the saddle. I pet that big boy in the neck and said let's go boy. And we did. I will never forget that feeling. Better than any hi. Teresa Mead
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