When utilized in conjunction with traditional therapies, equine therapy is beneficial in helping people with various emotional, physical and mental difficulties to heal and overcome their problems.
Here are 5 different types of equine therapy currently in use worldwide:
1. Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) or Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP): This is an experiential form of psychotherapy based around interactions with horses. EFP is often used to assist individuals dealing with emotional dysfunction or psychological disorders such as those with anxiety, depression, PTSD or even those undergoing difficult life transitions like divorce or loss of a loved one.
This type of therapy must be facilitated by a professionally trained and licensed psychotherapist and an equine specialist. The therapy sessions might include single individuals, groups or families. Individuals get to learn about their feelings and behavior patterns through their interaction with horses. The therapists then guide and assist them in making the necessary changes to improve.
2. Equine-Facilitated Learning/ Equine-Assisted Learning: This form of therapy aims at helping participants develop heightened self-awareness while gaining valuable insights into their behavior. This, in turn, improves their emotional and social interaction skills.
Equine facilitated learning is great for troubled or at-risk youth since working with large, powerful horses helps them build confidence and improves their self-esteem, which then spills over into other areas of their lives. This type of therapy has also been used effectively in leadership training and corporate team building events.
3. Hippotherapy: This is a form of neuromuscular therapy that is prescribed by a licensed therapist who uses the movements of a horse to provide clients with specific motor and sensory input. In this way, the horse’s movements are used as a form or physical, occupational or speech therapy.
During a hippotherapy session, a horse is led through different cadences, tempos, and gaits. The patient is then encouraged to use different postures, body language, and even commands to guide the horse’s movements. This helps them connect to their own bodily nuances, improving their motor coordination, neurological functions, and other sensory processes. Hippotherapy has been used as part of the treatment for patients with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, stroke, spinal cord injuries, among other neurological conditions.
4. Therapeutic Riding: This is a generalized term incorporating various riding activities conducted specifically for therapeutic purposes i.e. to improve the client’s psychological and physical functioning. In most cases, therapeutic riding is provided by a riding instructor in collaboration with a hippotherapist and it normally targets those with physical disabilities.
The effectiveness of this therapy lies in the fact that the motion of a therapeutic horse closely mimics human gait and provides riders with the same neurological and sensory stimulation as walking. This improves an individual’s muscle strength, flexibility, balance and muscle tone.
5. Other less common forms of equine therapy: Other forms of equine therapy involve a range of equine-assisted activities such as grooming, vaulting, parades, shows, and demonstrations all of which utilize interaction with horses to improve people’s lives.
Equine therapy is expected to increase in popularity in coming years as more people realize its numerous benefits.