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Equine therapy: what is it and what are its benefits?

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Equine therapy uses horses’ unique characteristics and sensitivity to help people cope with various challenges in life’s emotional and physiological aspects. The horse’s position in therapy changes according to the client’s treatment plan, goals, and objectives, and it can help people recover from trauma, stress, and mood disorders such as depression and relationship problems.

This article explains equine therapy and recommends it in which cases. Do you know its benefits?

What is equine therapy?

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Equine therapy is an animal therapy that integrates riding and horse care into psychotherapy.

Equine therapists use horses to treat mental health conditions such as depression, physical conditions such as cerebral palsy and the developmental challenges of autism. This hands-on therapy uses a variety of creative tools and techniques during treatment that are tailored to each individual case.

What is horse therapy called?

Equine therapy or treatment with horses is equine therapy, equine-assisted or equine-facilitated psychotherapy or hippotherapy.

What therapies are done with horses?

  1. Therapeutic riding: a certified instructor will teach the person how to ride, groom and care for the horse. This type of therapy is most often used for people with various types of disabilities, but it can also be helpful for other people.
  2. Equine-assisted psychotherapy: can be used to help treat many different conditions, such as anxiety, addiction, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. It integrates traditional psychotherapy or psychological therapy methods with different communication and coping strategies that can be learned from a horse.
  3. Hippotherapy: This therapy with horses is used as a therapeutic or rehabilitation treatment. It is done in physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech and language pathology settings.
  4. Equine-assisted learning: This type of education focuses on improving communication skills, self-awareness, self-control, and confidence through interactions with horses. It may include riding, grooming, saddling, or spending time with the horse.
Therapy horses

Who is equine therapy for?

Horses are attuned to nonverbal cues in their environment, so they can help people with various problems, including mental, emotional, and physical problems.

Mutual trust building through self-confidence, healthy communication and mindfulness with such a large and powerful animal can help build or restore beneficial boundaries for those who have a history of trauma, neglect and low self-esteem. This type of therapy can also be especially helpful in treating those with trust and abandonment issues.

Working with horses provides exercise for those who need help to develop fine and gross motor skills. It also stretches and activates organic muscle movements with the horse’s gait. People with different forms of cerebral palsy and autism can benefit from horseback riding as it helps them develop strength, balance and muscle control.

Equine-assisted psychotherapy can also be used to treat the following conditions:

  • Trauma: abuse and trauma-related disorders (post-traumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder).
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety or stress.
  • Addiction.
  • Relationship problems.
  • Mental health disorders.
  • ADHD.
  • Autism.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Use of addictive substances.

In addition, equine therapy can be used as part of couples therapy and for group and team building.

Benefits of equine therapy

  1. Promotes healthy attachment: Many people live with unhealthy attachment patterns. By creating a healthy bond with a horse through this therapeutic process, a person can transfer their new, healthier attachment pattern to other relationships. Taking responsibility for some of the horse’s care can inspire empathy and caring.
  2. Calms the nervous system: studies show that spending time with horses helps to regulate the nervous system. Endorphins, our feel-good hormone, are released during sessions. This helps to calm an overactive nervous system that is affected by trauma, depression or anxiety. Other therapies, such as craniosacral therapy, can also help to calm the nervous system.
  3. Boosts social learning and connection: With the therapist’s support, clients can communicate with horses more comfortably and freely, without being judged, and thus explore their own perception and behaviour in relation to the horse.
  4. Unbiased and unbiased: Horses are herd and prey animals conditioned to remain attentive to their current environment. This gives the animal a natural advantage over the rest of the therapy team, as it intuitively adopts an unbiased and unbiased perspective in the therapeutic approach.
  5. Behavioural feedback: Horses bring to the team their ability to mimic the environment and those interacting in it through their body language and other subtle gestures. The horse’s behaviour reflects the client’s current physical and emotional state, encouraging the client to become more self-aware. This feedback from the horse’s behaviour allows the professional therapist to translate the language shared with the horse into useful information for the client and practitioner to use for therapeutic improvement.
  6. Mindfulness: mindfulness is the intentional process of paying attention and focusing on experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment. Mindful meditation with horses helps reduce stress by inducing a relaxation response, lowering heart rate, reducing anxiety and encouraging positive attitudes and thought patterns. Horses also help to focus on breathing and encourage positive attitudes to achieve a balanced state of mind.
  7. Nature: This therapy promotes the many benefits of being outdoors. Many studies have shown a direct correlation between physical and mental health when we engage with nature. Our environment can affect how we think and feel, and regular exposure to nature has also been crucial for a healthy quality of life. Reconnecting with nature is beneficial in alleviating some of the symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. It promotes mindfulness, gratitude and balance. Being outdoors with horses will foster a sense of connection, humility and contentment.
horse therapy benefits

Is equine therapy effective?

Equine therapy is beneficial in treating a variety of physical and mental health problems. Healthy brain connectivity correlates significantly with clinical improvements in mental health, suggesting that increased responsiveness to reward may underlie the improvements observed in subjects with post-traumatic stress disorder following equine therapy.

One study showed more positive changes during an 8-week equine therapy course than in office-based psychotherapy settings. This suggests that improving reward circuits with equine therapy could be significant in finding other improved methods of treating this complex psychological disorder.

Looking back, as early as 460 BC, the physician Hippocrates in Greece spoke of the benefits of horses in solving physical and mental health problems.

What does science say about equine therapy?

According to the study Equine-assisted therapies using horses as healers: A concept analysis, equine therapy is considered an evidence-based treatment approach for physical and psychological conditions.

How much does a horse therapy cost?

Horse therapy sessions usually range from €35-60 per session.

They are carried out by professionals from the educational, health, and/or social sectors who have been specifically trained for this type of equine-assisted intervention.

horse therapy children

Horses as ‘therapists

Equine therapy can bring a range of therapeutic benefits to people facing physical and mental health problems. Effective nonverbal communication with a horse requires emotional regulation and self-awareness, which in turn transfer to other human relationships.

Combining such therapies with oral supplements that can support and optimise their benefits is particularly useful. One such supplement is G7 Neuro Health, which supports the nervous system and psychological function thanks to its main ingredient, organic silica. Its benefits include increased energy, improved concentration, and its ability to combat the harmful effects of the brain’s main oxidative stress inducer, aluminium. Combining coadjuvant therapies allows us to carry out a comprehensive treatment approach that offers better results.

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