Equine-assisted therapy, sometimes also known as equine therapy or horse therapy, is a form of animal therapy that focuses on the interaction between horses and people. The therapeutic benefits of horseback riding have been noted for many centuries, but the formal equine-assisted therapy that is used today came about much later. Under the supervision of a professional, participants will help care for the horses with tasks such as grooming, feeding, and leading the animal. Participants will start to build a connection with the horses and improvements to their mental health will often follow. This type of therapy is often used with other mental health treatment programming and has been used to help people with a variety of both physical and mental ailments.
Equine Therapy Benefits
Research has studied the benefits of animals for people’s physical and mental health. While interacting with therapy dogs are a well-known form of animal therapy, interactions with horses have also been found to have therapeutic benefits.
Research suggests that equine-assisted therapy has several benefits including:
- Better emotional awareness
- More trust and empathy
- Better stress management
- Increased confidence and independence
- Improved social skills
- Better interpersonal skills1
People struggling with poor mental health, physical ailments, or behavioral issues may be lacking in these areas. Also, some people may find it hard to open up about their struggles. Their relationships with the horses may not only help them become more comfortable with the idea of discussing their problems with people, but their interactions with the horses can also give the supervising professional insight into the participant’s problems.
Equine-Assisted Therapy at BHOPB
At our West Palm Beach treatment center, we use equine-assisted therapy on a seasonal basis as part of our comprehensive approach to treatment for our patients. This program specifically helps patients with relationship building and trust. Led by a certified equine therapist, the program involves patients interacting with thoroughbred horses in a series of supervised exercises meant to build a bond between the patients and the horses.
Not only can this therapy be beneficial for our patients with mental health disorders, but also we can use equine-assisted therapy for patients in our dual diagnosis program who struggle with both substance abuse and mental illness. This process can be extremely revealing and helpful to our team. Horses are naturally empathic animals with innate observation abilities. A horse’s reactions to a patient’s body language will allow our experts to make assessments about their mental state as well as any boundary issues, which may have developed as a result of addiction. We also often find substance abuse can rob our patients of the ability to interact effectively with others. In the past, they may have used substances as a tool to aid in this process, but in sobriety, forming close relationships with someone may become more difficult. Working with horses can help these people develop better interpersonal skills that they can implement outside of rehab. Our equine-assisted therapy program is also a remarkably meaningful experience for our patients who may be searching for new meaning in their life among all of the chaotic transitions.