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For many people, nothing beats cuddling up with a cute puppy or cat. For such individuals, animals are stress relievers. That is why, for a long time, psychologists have been utilizing animals in treatment. Equine therapy is a sort of psychotherapy that is founded on the idea of using horses to heal psychiatric disorders.

Also known as Equine-assisted psychotherapy, it is a sort of experiential mental health treatment in which a client interacts with horses while in therapy. Equine therapy has been found to address a wide range of mental health conditions in persons of all ages.

If you want to know about equine therapy in detail and clear your doubts then keep reading this guide. You’ll get to know every possible information about this therapy below.

Two women petting horses.

Equine-facilitated psychotherapy (EFPT), commonly referred to as horse therapy is a type of psychotherapy that employs horses as a therapeutic tool. A horse, a therapist, and a horse expert are usually involved in equine-assisted therapy. This group will assist individuals or groups in learning more about themselves and developing new ways of thinking. The therapy team’s job is to lead the individual or group through the process, helping them to think about their experiences and what they mean to them.

What is TMS Therapy?

Following an initial consultation, a set of exercises will be performed based on the needs of the participant. Equine-assisted therapy can help with a variety of concerns and is especially beneficial for people who desire to improve certain aspects of their behavior.

Equine assisted therapy has a long and illustrious history. For thousands of years, horses have been employed as a therapeutic help. Horses were utilised by the ancient Greeks to help individuals with incurable ailments, and Greek physician Hippocrates, renowned as the “Father of Medicine,” was the first to write about it. He wrote about therapeutic riding as early as 400 BC, and one discipline of horse treatment is named after him: Hippotherapy.

Equine therapy was given for illnesses including gout, neurological problems, and depression much later in history, in the 17th century. In modern times, horse therapy gained widespread appeal in the 1950s, when a paraplegic Danish lady named Liz Hartel won a silver medal in dressage at the 1952 Olympic Games. Soon after, therapists in countries like Germany, Austria, and Switzerland began to combine therapeutic riding with physical therapy to help their patients achieve long-term neuromuscular changes. By the 1980s, therapists from the United States and Canada had been to Germany to learn about the country and bring what they had learned back to the United States.

There is usually no horseback riding involved, and you are not required to touch the horse if you do not want to. Various exercises have been devised to assist you in thinking and acting in ways you may not have considered previously. The exercises will usually involve you to engage with the horse; you may be asked to lead it over a series of obstacles or in a specific direction – typically without the use of a lead rope, or you may be asked to feed and look after the horse.

This type of assignment necessitates a creative mindset and may drive you to reassess your actions. The horse expert will be present to verify that everything is safe, but you will not be taught how to achieve your objective; it will be up to you to experiment with alternative approaches.

What is Neurofeedback and how it works?

Your therapist will talk to you about your experience after you’ve completed the exercises. Discussing how you felt during the exercise and why you believe you were successful or failed might help you understand more about yourself and your behaviour. You may build a bond with the horse over time, which can be extremely powerful in and of itself.

The interaction between horse and client often unlocks blocked emotions, allowing them to be processed and healed. Besides that, the following are the outcomes or benefits of equine therapy. Learn to go beyond your own negative, self-centered thinking and care for another species.

  • Increased trust
  • Better understanding of healthy boundaries and the importance of assertiveness
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Improved communication skills, including non-verbal
  • Increased self-esteem, self-acceptance, and social skills
  • Increased problem-solving skills
  • Better impulse control

Below is the list of most popular types of equine therapy;

Therapeutic Riding: This is a broad word that refers to a variety of riding activities that are expressly designed to improve a client’s psychological and physical well-being. Therapeutic riding is usually performed by a riding client in partnership with a hippotherapist, and it is intended for those who have physical limitations.

The effectiveness of this therapy stems from the fact that a therapeutic horse’s motion closely resembles that of a human stride, providing riders with the same neurological and sensory stimulation as walking. Muscular strength, flexibility, balance, and muscle tone all improve as a result of this.

Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP): or Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP): This is a type of experiential psychotherapy that involves interactions with horses. EFP is frequently used to help people who are dealing with emotional dysfunction or psychological disorders, such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD, or who are going through difficult life transitions, such as divorce or the loss of a loved one.

A professionally trained and licenced psychotherapist as well as an equine specialist must facilitate this type of therapy. Individuals, groups, or families may participate in therapy sessions. Individuals learn about their feelings and behavioural patterns as a result of their interactions with others.

Couples Therapy Techniques and Activities

Hippotherapy: This is a type of neuromuscular therapy that is prescribed by a licenced therapist and involves the use of a horse’s movements to provide clients with specific motor and sensory input. The horse’s movements are thus used as a form of physical, occupational, or speech therapy.

A horse is led through various cadences, tempos, and gaits during a hippotherapy session. The patient is then encouraged to guide the horse’s movements with various postures, body language, and even commands. This allows them to connect with their own bodily nuances, which improves motor coordination, neurological functions, and other sensory processes. Hippotherapy has been used to treat patients suffering from Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, stroke, and spinal cord injuries, among other neurological conditions.

Equine-Assisted Learning/ Equine-Facilitated Learning: This type of treatment attempts to help individuals obtain useful insights into their behaviour while also increasing their self-awareness. As a result, their emotional and social interaction skills increase.

Equine-assisted learning is beneficial to problematic or at-risk adolescents because interacting with enormous, powerful horses boosts their confidence and self-esteem, which then spreads to other areas of their lives. This sort of therapy has also proven to be beneficial in leadership development and business team-building activities.

Other, less popular types of equine therapy include grooming, vaulting, parades, shows, and demonstrations, all of which involve interaction with horses to enhance people’s lives.

Equine therapy is predicted to grow in popularity in the future years as more people become aware of its many advantages.

Below is a table to summarize the difference between hippotherapy and equine therapy.

HippotherapyEquine Therapy
Hippotherapy is an equine-assisted physical, occupational, or speech and language therapy treatment strategy.Equine therapy entails more than just the horse’s movement. Equine therapy encompasses a variety of activities such as riding, learning about horses, health benefits, physical activity, and many more advantages.
Physical, Occupational, or Speech Therapy are all options for treatment. The horse’s movement is used as a therapy technique.Recreational horseback riding classes that are tailored to your needs
Hippotherapy is a one-on-one treatment that lasts until the client meets the criteria for discharge.The focus of therapeutic riding is on good riding position and reining abilities rather than practical therapeutic purposes.

Equine therapy can be very beneficial for many mental health problems including;

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Addiction
  • Relationship issues
  • Behavioral problems
  • Eating disorders
  • Grief
  • Depression
  • Relationship issues

Some of the major psychological disorders treated by the equine therapy are briefly described below;

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy For PTSD Treatment

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder caused by watching or experiencing a horrific incident. The symptoms of PTSD include: Flashbacks, nightmares, and acute anxiety, as well as repeated uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Experiencing traumatic events can result in temporary difficulties related to adjusting and coping in patients with PTSD, but they normally get better with time and adequate self-care. Besides the previously mentioned symptoms, a patient is not diagnosed with PTSD unless the symptoms interfere with the daily functioning, plus the symptoms should be experienced by the patient for at least one month following a traumatic event. Equine based therapies are considered a great treatment option for PTSD patients.

How do behavioral therapies work?

According to an article, Hassett, a riding instructor at the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program,  observed the results of equine therapy in describing her work with soldiers, “Many of them have stated that after their PTSD and despair, they never imagined they’d be able to bond with someone and have that personal connection again. They are, nevertheless, feeling that connection with their horse. They can apply this to the rest of their lives as well as their relationships.”

Equine Psychotherapy For ADHD Treatment

ADHD is one of the most common paediatric neurodevelopmental diseases. It is most commonly diagnosed in childhood and lasts far into adulthood. Children with ADHD may struggle to pay attention, manage impulsive behaviours (doing without considering the consequences), or be extremely active.

For anyone, especially someone with ADHD, this sensation of success can be tremendous. In equine therapy they’re getting immediate input from their horse at those times, and they’re learning how to build trust, communicate effectively, and work toward a personal goal or milestone.

Equine Therapy To Treat Addiction

An addiction is a long-term malfunction of the brain’s reward, motivation, and memory systems. It’s about how your body needs a substance or habit, particularly if it leads to a compulsive or obsessive pursuit of “reward” with little regard for the consequences.

Addiction treatment’s ultimate purpose is to help clients live sober, healthy, and productive lives. Clients often work hard in addiction treatment to address hurts in their relationships, such as within their family or with their partner. During treatment, learning to trust, practise vulnerability, and communicate effectively can be difficult.

As they achieve a sense of safety and build a relationship with the horse, EAP can assist clients learn how to develop a sense of trust via their interactions with the horse. As they learn new things and connect with the horse, the experience may encourage customers to be sensitive.

Despite the wide range of benefits, remember, When exploring a new treatment technique, it is always a good idea to consult with your personal therapist or counsellor to confirm that the method is a suitable fit for both of you. If you plan to use horses in therapy, you should know that the American Psychological Association considers equine therapy to be an evidence-based approach. The scientific data in favour of horse therapy implies that it has advantages. Still, it needs more evidence and scientific research to prove efficacy.