The influential American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole and once it has done so, they will have to accept that their life will be radically changed.” This is what equine-assisted therapy and healing with horses are all about. It is about experiencing a connection with something outside of ourselves, so we can then feel a greater connection within.
Healing With Horses: What Exactly Is Equine-Assisted Therapy?
So, what exactly does healing with horses mean? Many people may view it as a fringe type of therapy, but it is actually gaining in popularity and there have been many studies that now show great efficacy and benefits for individuals struggling with issues of addiction and/or mental health.
The basis of equine-assisted therapy is true to its namesake; it is healing with horses. It is working with horses, caring for them, interacting with them, and, ultimately, bonding with them. When this happens, some psychological and emotional benefits start to manifest.
According to the peer-reviewed article Equine‐Assisted Therapies Using Horses as Healers: A Concept Analysis, “The psychosocial effects of [equine-assisted therapy] include improved self‐esteem, self‐confidence, empowerment, a sense of self‐presence, and feelings of freedom, independence, and competency. Horses can recognize human emotions and respond in an intentional way… [It is asserted that] this bond is similar to a mother-child relationship explained by attachment theory.” So, who exactly needs this type of bond?
The answer is that anyone can benefit from such a close bond. However, individuals that have trauma or struggle with PTSD are ideal candidates for healing with horses.
Who Is Equine-Assisted Therapy For?
Individuals who struggle with trauma often have a difficult time with communication. They also tend to be mistrusting of other people, especially people who come off as authoritative. Equine-assisted therapy eliminates this “threat.” It also offers the individual time to create a bond and cultivate a relationship.
No judgment comes from these majestic creatures. They can be like looking into a mirror. They will offer the same amount of love and affection that is offered to them. However, they will do so without any expectation of reciprocation or ulterior motives, which is why equine-assisted therapy can be ideal for individuals with trauma. They are ultimately in a safe space.
What Does Healing With Horses Look Like?
Equine-assisted therapy is a lot more than simply “playing with” or riding horses. It is a very involved therapy that involves highly skilled licensed equine therapy specialists.
According to the previously mentioned article, “Currently, there are 4,800 certified instructors and 881 therapeutic riding centers around the world. The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International claims to have helped 66,000 children and adults physically, mentally, and emotionally each year.” Also, “The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reported that between 2002 and 2012, 33.2% of US adults used complementary health approaches for physical and psychological therapy.” Yes, it is becoming more popular because more and more studies are showing how well healing with horses can work.
Healing with horses is going to include a rigorous schedule of feeding and caring for the horses while engaged with them. This will help build connection and also help to build self-esteem as individuals start to feel empowered by helping a horse not only survive but thrive. It also often includes riding the horses and building trust as a further connection is made. Many people claim that this connection can be similar to a spiritual experience as a new bond is forged.
What Are the Benefits of Healing With Horses?
While some were previously mentioned, many other benefits can come from equine-assisted therapy. These benefits include:
- A reduction in anxiety and depression
- Feeling less lonely and isolated
- An increase in trust
- Improved impulse control
- Helps build problem-solving skills
- Improves mood
- Helps with non-verbal communication skills
- Brings a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction when completing tasks
- Helps reduce stress and introduces a greater sense of calm
Creating a Better Version of You With Restoration Recovery
Emerson also famously wrote, “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.” This is our goal at Restoration Recovery: to help create a better version of you by helping you investigate the truth and strength that exists within.
At Restoration Recovery, we believe that recovery is about more than a mere “quick fix.” It is about sustained long-term recovery that offers daily progress as we become the people that we were always destined to become. The first part of that progress is reaching out your hand for help. Our hand will always be here to grab it when you do.
Connecting with horses during equine-assisted therapy can be highly beneficial and make a positive impression on one’s treatment and overall life. The simple act of petting an animal like a horse actually triggers an automatic relaxation response and can immediately reduce stress levels. It has also been shown to increase motivation in individuals going through treatment. For many, it can be a happy distraction from the more serious and mentally taxing aspects of addiction treatment. If you feel like you or a loved one is struggling with issues of addiction, mental health, or both, we can help. For more information about equine-assisted therapy, please reach out to Restoration Recovery today at (888) 290-0925.