There is a fascinating trend in modern psychology. More and more, animal therapy is being used to manage a host of neurological and psychological impairments, from autism to substance abuse. Dogs, in particular, have been trained as service animals, assisting with depression, mental illness, and physical diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
One animal you may not have expected to be used as a therapy animal is horses. You might have guessed from spending time with your horse, but horses have turned out to be surprisingly adept as therapy animals. Equine therapy is being offered by many professional treatment programs to help curb emotional disruptions, destructive behavior and more.
But what makes equine therapy such a boon to mental health professionals and what happens during a session?
The Unique Power of Horses:
A relationship with a horse is different than with any other animal. They have strong personalities, respond directly to the way they are treated, as well as how much time they spend with their riders.
Part of this is due to their natural empathy. Horses are amazingly intuitive and have a way of sensing emotion in the people around them. Have you ever heard stories of a horse acting nervous when their rider is anxious or scared? They can sense that fear and respond in kind.
When we are faced with a creature that feels us on such a deep level, we connect with them. For people who are struggling with emotional issues, having that connection can be the non-judgmental lifeline they need.
What Happens During Equine Therapy:
Different equine therapy programs will have different focuses and it may be customized based on the ability, comfort level and needs of the patient. But most programs have two parts: riding and caring.
Riding a horse is a way to build trust, not only with the horse but with a person’s own physical abilities. It can also be relaxing and empowering, making it a great stress release.
Caring for a horse is perhaps the most important part of the process. Each action is therapeutic in that it is ritualized and requires mindfulness to complete all tasks. It also teaches empathy, responsibility and the importance of caring for another living being.
A sample of an equine therapy session may look like this:
- Upon Arrival: Brush out horse, saddle horse, check for any immediate needs of horse.
- Hour 1: Walk or ride horse.
- Hour 2: De-saddle horse, brush fur and main, feed and water horse, muck out stall.
- Before Leaving: Write down or discuss emotions with overseer.
Shorter sessions may cut down or combine certain aspects of this process. For instance, they may discuss emotions and events during the course of caring for the horse or ride together while having a discussion.
As you can see, equine therapy is a powerful and effective method of treatment that is becoming more common by the year. It may be just what you or your loved one needs.