Equine Assisted Therapy has existed in different forms for close to three decades. While horse people have long understood the benefits, it’s taken time and scientific proof to convince traditional mental health professionals to open up to the idea.
In an article posted recently on Psychology Today, Azmaira H. Maker Ph.D. writes that “Growing evidence supports the effectiveness of treatment with horses in a therapeutic environment. Studies have resulted in a body of literature supporting the therapeutic value of the human-animal interaction.”
She notes that Equine Assisted Therapy can be utilized in a variety of therapeutic settings including helping people with “depression, anxiety, ADHD, conduct disorders, addiction, trauma, eating disorders, spectrum and health difficulties, dissociative disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other mental health difficulties.”
The article highlights the importance of partaking in programs facilitated by trained and experienced equine and mental health professionals and lists 16 benefits:
Trust: Participants learn to trust their equine and human therapists as well as themselves.
Anxiety Reduction: Research shows that interaction with animals significantly reduces physiological anxiety levels.
Depression and Decreasing Isolation: Interacting non-verbally with horses, and experiencing their unconditional acceptance encourages people to engage in social interactions with others.
Mindfulness: Participants must learn to be in the moment with horses in a calm, focussed and fully engaged manner which helps them learn new positive ways of being.
Self-Esteem: Confidence is boosted as participants take on new challenges and master new skills in a non-competitive, non-judgemental environment.
Impulse Regulation: The necessity to communicate with horses calmly and non-reactively promotes self-control and regulation of emotions and behaviours.
Self-Efficacy: Developing the ability to problem-solve non-verbally fosters initiative and empowers participants to move beyond feelings of helplessness and lack of motivation.
Positive Identity: Through this work, participants learn to bond with horses and experience feelings of being ‘liked’ and accepted.
Communication: People learn to become more sensitive to non-verbal cues they may be communicating, which promotes self-awareness and intuition.
Growth With Nature: Learning in nature is a peaceful experience for most people, which promotes feelings of joy and connection.
Self-Acceptance: Participants learn to focus inwardly on their own comfort level and let go of fears of embarrassment, which is necessary for developing resilience.
Social Skills: This helps with a variety of skills including reciprocity, assertiveness, engagement, as well as positive and negative feedback from others, including the horses.
Assertiveness: Working with a large animal like a horse can be intimidating, but once people learn to do so effectively, they become better able to express their feelings as a result.
Boundaries: Participants learn how to operate within the boundaries of a safe and mutually caring relationship without fear of trauma or being controlled.
Creativity and Spontaneity: People learn to let go of their inhibitions and rigidity by enjoying the more spontaneous aspects of spending time with horses, and become more creative in healthy recreational play.
Perspective and Giving: Participants learn to put aside their troubles and bad feelings and focus on developing caring and nurturing relationships with horses.