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Saddle Up For Wellness: The Therapeutic Benefits Of Equine-Assisted Programs

We lived in this world among animals for thousands of years, and the bond between humans and animals goes beyond what some people can imagine.

We’ve all heard about animal therapy. In fact, this method was first recognized in the late 1800s, but since then we’ve learned a lot more about the psychological and emotional benefits of humans being around certain animals.

No, we are not talking about dogs that are emotional support animals. We are talking about horses.

When we think about horses, usually the first thing that comes to mind is horse racing. However, you don’t need to know how to bet on horse racing to engage with the therapeutic benefits of equines.

Horses have been around us for thousands of years, and we as humans, have created a special bond with these majestic creatures. This bond goes to the point where being close to each other acts as an emotional therapy. This is why we are now seeing many equine-assisted programs that are used as a therapy to improve the overall well-being of humans.

Let’s learn more about them.

History of Equine-Assisted Therapy

Combining equestrian activities and beliefs with the therapy of physical and mental health disorders has been practiced for millennia. Hippotherapy (from the Greek hippo, meaning horse) was named after the ancient Greeks who wrote about the benefits of horseback riding.

However, it wasn’t until the mid-1900s that modern psychotherapists began using existing therapeutic riding techniques created to cure polio and other physical disorders to the therapy of mental health concerns.

During the 1950s and 1960s, riding became more popular as a treatment method. The North American Riding for Handicapped Association was founded in 1969, and it eventually evolved into the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International.

What Is Equine-Assisted Therapy?

A horse barn does not appear to be the normal setting for intense mental health treatment. Nonetheless, some people find equine-assisted therapy to be effective. Typically, equine-assisted therapy is a collaborative effort between a mental health practitioner and a horse specialist. Clients who participate in equine-assisted therapy are typically seeking assistance with emotional or behavioral issues.

Clients learn about horse care by working with professionally trained horses. Learning to care for the animals takes precedence over learning to ride in this treatment. Working with horses is done in conjunction with treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and experiential therapy.

How Does it Work?

Equine treatment for mental health disorders often involves both a psychologist and a horse trainer. Horses, whether full-size or smaller ponies are selected as therapy animals in part because of their capacity to bear a considerable deal of attention and unexpected or erratic behavior from those riding or grooming them. Many have been trained to display particularly polite and repetitive behaviors in order to put people at rest and make encounters more predictable.

Some residential treatment institutions provide horse therapy programs, while others are set up between a person and their psychotherapist. Someone new to equine therapy will usually begin with simple interactions with the horse, such as caressing, grooming, and feeding.

They might next progress to haltering the horse and guiding it with or without a trainer. Not all equine therapy incorporates riding horses, though it is frequently woven into the practice.
Benefits of Equine-Assisted Programs

Equine Assisted Therapy has proven effective in addressing a diverse range of conditions, including:

  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Behavioral issues, including aggressive behavior
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia
  • Relationship problems
  • Communication issues

The structure and content of equine-assisted therapy sessions vary, tailored to the specific condition being treated and the individual(s) involved. A recent article in Psychology Today explores numerous ways in which people derive benefits from Equine Assisted Therapy.

Better self-image

Many individuals are terrified of dealing with horses because of their size. Caring for these creatures requires effort in more than one manner.

Physically, caring for horses is a great way to develop a strong work ethic. It can offer you a feeling of purpose while also enhancing your self-image. Working with horses needs emotional strength, patience, and understanding. Seeing your bond with a horse grow stronger over time may boost your confidence.

Enhanced Empathy

Empathy is the capacity to comprehend and share the sentiments of another person. Horses, like herd animals, can detect and internalize the emotions of other horses and humans. Their existence is dependent on their ability to detect any perturbations in their surroundings.

When you approach a horse while upset, it will react by becoming annoyed and obstinate. If you are upset emotionally, your horse will sense it and get upset as well. You can’t hide your emotions from them.


Horses seek leadership. You cannot compel them to cooperate. When dealing with horses, it is critical to learn to be less passive by standing up and being a leader. At the same time, they can detect excessive aggression. They will immediately respond to this circumstance by becoming agitated, for example.

Tolerance to stress

People who participate in equine-assisted therapy must be calm, concentrated, focused, and totally involved. Horses may teach mindfulness, which allows you to pay attention to your fleeting thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and experiences.

Because you are not reacting to these ephemeral feelings, mindfulness allows you to handle stress.

These represent some of the ways equine-assisted therapy can benefit individuals, with additional advantages including:

  • Enhanced trust
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Reduced despair and solitude; increased self-esteem, self-acceptance, and social skills
  • Improved impulse control and problem-solving abilities
  • Improved communication abilities, particularly nonverbal communication
  • Improved awareness of appropriate limits and the significance of assertiveness
  • Learn to go beyond your own negative, self-centered thinking and care for another species

So, if you like to improve your overall well-being and strengthen your mental health, choosing equine-assisted therapy might be the right way to go.

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Written by Marcus Richards

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