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 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.
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.
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.