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What Really Happens During Equine Therapy
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What Really Happens During Equine Therapy

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.

More about horses, equine, therapy, horse, riding

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  1. jst4horses
    This is a good article, but points out what is WRONG with most equine therapy. A horse is NOT a couch substitute for psychoanalysis of any type. There are several equine therapies that have evolved out of programs for disabled or birth defected children. They fail to recognize that veterans of combat, or high risk youth with family problems (such as being raped by Mom's boyfriend, or seeing one's parents initiate a gun battle with a SWAT team, both of which our programs see a large number of riders attempting to deal with) are NOT children with birth defects. AND they are not the same as children in psychotherapy programs in a room with talk therapy programs, or toy and drawing therapy programs. Most of those we work with have serious, serious violence disorders as well as the other end of the spectrum, those who have been so abused they have shut down. HORSES heal these youth. Veterans in many programs of excellent horse persons, not psychologists using a horse as a couch, are healed within hours..................it is awesome, while they may take some months, or even years in support programs they open up and move away from their initial thought of suicide, because of the HORSE connection. There are programs that say in the first sentence the equine therapists and volunteers do not need any horse experience. As a Master Horsetrainer, I do not think ANYONE would allow a person with NO mechanical experience to work on race cars .....................In our inclusion book "Carousel Horse" about our programs at all levels, we make it clear that it takes a long time to become a horseman or horsewoman, few riders or trainers over the years reach this category of horseworker. Whether a side walker, a wrangler, or a trainer, or even a therapist, NO ONE should be out there with horses who is not well qualified to deal with issues. There are many examples of why this is true. One day, while at a children's equine therapy horse show a truck drove by with a big blue tarp flapping, the horse in the arena, with a disabled child aboard started to buck, rear and even scream in terror. The wrangler and even the psychologist RAN AWAY.......I jumped through the bars, ran up and told the child to jump on my shoulders, which ALL of our students who are small enough are trained to do when asked, no questions, no whining, no tantrums..............and took the child to the fence, then went back to soothe the horse. Another time, an adult, just training his own horse, way above his skill level, at the stable where the program boarded, was suddenly aboard a rodeo bucking bronc. That man was going to get hurt or killed. I ran up and grabbed the halter, told the man to GET OFF, and took over the horse, soothed it and then we started over as he should have, IF he had more sense than to take a few riding lessons and then buy a horse that was way above his skill level. That man, and others could not believe I had jumped in there between those thrashing and kicking legs and grabbed that bridle. It is an every day occurrence at race tracks where I had trained out bad boy racing babies with my younger son for many years........As we taught every licensed horse handler, a horse is a wild animal, and you only get ONE mistake, and someone can die. You never know when a bee, or a tarp, or just a trash truck going by is going to turn that horse into a raging maniac and you better know what to do..................for most people the answer is GET OFF, safely and fast. I have seen way too many people die or be harmed for life by thinking that old myth, stay on or you let the horse win...............the horse will always win, when instinct takes over, that is a half ton of raging self preservation....................I find the innate instincts and abilities of horses is what heals...................and using the fear humans rightly have for these big animals in a careful and professionally trained way also helps. I have seen veterans in just a few hours change from suicide to wanting to live, and in weeks they are helping heal other veterans. Both horses and veterans out of control are unsafe for those who do not know what they are doing. God bless and thank you for the article.
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    1. pbb13
      Your reply confuses me. You are clearly very knowledgeable in this subject. I am here trying to learn. Having had horses all of my life all of what you say in true, but your post seems fear based like you are trying to scare people. Just my opinion. I went back and re-read the original post several times to try and see the WRONG as you did, but I cannot. As I said, it's clear that you have much knowledge on this subject. You should post this info on your own Blog for us who are on here to learn. Most of the time I totally ignore comments and only read the original posts.
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