Equine Therapy

Equine Therapy

Equine therapy (or Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy) is an approach to healing from mental health issues, using horses as therapeutic partners. Horses have been found to be powerful partners in healing, because they seem to act as a mirror for the internal world of the client. They help clients on the road to recovery by encouraging the development of useful skills, such as emotional regulation, confidence, responsibility and vulnerability.

Equine therapy involves the use of horses, used in treatment by rehab centres, veteran’s therapy groups, and trauma recovery centres, and is always led by a licensed professional.

Equine therapy offers benefits to those suffering from a wide range of psychological health issues, including[1]:

  • Substance addiction.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Grief.
  • Trauma and PTSD.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Mood disorders.

For a long time, horses have been great partners in the development of human society. They have allowed us to farm, travel, and hunt effectively. More recently, research has found they can also help us to heal from our trauma-induced wounds.

 

How do horses help?

 

Coping with feelings is a difficult challenge faced by those of us who have experienced a trauma and are suffering from mental health issues or struggling with addiction. Feelings and thoughts can be so powerful and upsetting that those suffering may turn to destructive, avoidant behaviours to distract themselves or find relief from these feelings. Accessing these feelings intellectually can be hard because very often they are buried underneath layers of denial or blame. In equine therapy, the focus is not on intellectualisation of one’s feelings, but on being honest and authentic enough about them to be in connection with the horse.

Horses often demonstrate an emotional attunement and sensitivity, a skill developed over their evolution as prey animals. The horse often reflects our inner environment. Therefore, by observing and paying attention to the horse, we can gain insight into our own state of being.

Horses teach us honesty and vulnerability is more effective than authority and distance.

 

How does Equine Therapy help us to be vulnerable?

 

Horses read our non-verbal communication and they react to it. They know if you are arrogant or aggressive, pregnant, or sick, and provide clear feedback to the client’s emotional state.

When we have experienced trauma – either a single experience or as a series of events – it can be extremely difficult to talk about it. This is one of the challenges faced in traditional talk therapies. Equine therapy offers a unique opportunity for clients to think about and process their difficult feelings.

Simply watching a horse, and how it behaves around other horses in a given situation, can allow clients to relate to a horse’s experience. Three horses might play in an arena with two behaving aggressively, while the other shies away timidly. Upon seeing this, a client might be able to relate the experience of the shy horse to their own experience -among violence in the family, for example. This provides a safe, non-threatening opportunity to process one’s feelings.

 

Benefits of Equine Therapy

 

Anxiety

For those suffering from anxiety disorders – such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, or Social Anxiety Disorder – worries and fears about the past or the potential future can be overwhelming and disrupt daily life.[2] Horses can help those suffering from anxiety by requiring them to ‘stay present and focused on the task at hand’[3], as explained by anxiety expert, Dr. Robin Zasio.

 

PTSD

Equine therapy is seeing an increase in popularity in assisting treatment of PTSD in combat veterans.[4] PTSD significantly impacts a person’s ability to form strong connections with others, as it is often accompanied by a lack of trust and an inability to be open and vulnerable. In working with horses, many veterans with PTSD have found the ability to bond and connect with another is still within them, as it had been invited to the surface in relationship with the horse as a therapeutic partner.[5]

 

Autism Spectrum Disorders

In assisting therapy for children with autism spectrum disorders, equine therapy was found to[6]:

  • Improve self-esteem.
  • Increase self-confidence.
  • Create a sense of empowerment.
  • Create a sense of presence.
  • Provide feelings of freedom.
  • Provide a sense of independence and competency.

 

Addiction

Addiction treatment typically involves treating co-occurring disorders, like depression and anxiety[7]. Equine therapy is linked to a reduction in both. Those struggling with addiction also regularly deal with challenges in interpersonal relationships. Equine therapy cultivates and encourages trust, vulnerability and honest communication, improving a client’s abilities in those areas.

 

A Complementary Approach to Healing

 

Equine Therapy is an effective complementary therapy when used in conjunction with traditional psychodynamic psychotherapies. It promotes authenticity of self and encourages open and honest communication as when these attributes are lacking, a relationship with the horse cannot be properly formed.

Throughout history, horses have been prey animals so they are familiar with anxiety. Their vigilance and keen eye for threat gives them a sense of understanding and awareness. Anxiety is comorbid with an extensive list of other conditions, and those who suffer with it often find a mutual understanding of anxiety between themselves and their therapeutic partner horse.

Overall, equine therapy provides an opportunity to heal where traditional approaches often miss the mark.


Get in touch

 

If you have a client, or know of someone who is suffering with mental health issues, and who could benefit from equine therapy, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential program and out-patient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long lasting recovery. For information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).

 

Sources:

[1] Goodtherapy.org. 2017. Equine–Assisted Therapy. [online] Available at: <https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/equine-assisted-therapy> [Accessed 7 August 2020].

[2] US National Library of Medicine. General anxiety disorder. Updated March 2018.

[3] Clarke, J., n.d. Equine Therapy As Mental Health Treatment: How It’s Used. [online] Verywell Mind. Available at: <https://www.verywellmind.com/equine-therapy-mental-health-treatment-4177932#citation-4> [Accessed 7 August 2020].

[4] Shelef A, Brafman D, Rosing T, Weizman A, Stryjer R, Barak Y. Equine assisted therapy for patients with post traumatic stress disorder: A case series study. Mil Med. 2019;184(9-10):394-399. doi:10.1093/milmed/usz036.

[5] Clarke, J., n.d. Equine Therapy As Mental Health Treatment: How It’s Used. [online] Verywell Mind. Available at: <https://www.verywellmind.com/equine-therapy-mental-health-treatment-4177932#citation-4> [Accessed 7 August 2020].

[6] Tan, V.‐X.‐L. , & Simmonds, J. G. (2018). Parent perceptions of psychosocial outcomes of equine‐assisted interventions for children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(3), 759–769. 10.1007/s10803-017-3399-3.

[7] Quello, Susan B et al. “Mood disorders and substance use disorder: a complex comorbidity.” Science & practice perspectives vol. 3,1 (2005): 13-21. doi:10.1151/spp053113.

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