Many people facing challenges in their daily lives have found a deep connection and healing through horse therapy. Working with horses sparks a deep bond, and its therapeutic benefits are well known. It isn't just helpful with emotional strain and stress, either. Horse therapy can benefit almost everyone.
What Is Horse Therapy?
Horse therapy, also known as equine-assisted therapy, incorporates working with horses as part of a restorative program to help address physical, mental, and emotional issues. Professional therapists guide clients through building a bond and interacting with these intuitive animals. The empathetic rapport and emotional support horses offer are profound aides in recovery.
Horse therapy takes place in many settings, including hospitals and schools. The purpose of horse therapy is to improve the overall well-being of the patient by introducing them to a safe environment where they can learn new skills and build confidence. The person being treated interacts with the horse through grooming, feeding, bathing, and riding. The goal is to help people connect with their own feelings, as well as their horse and their surroundings.
The Power of Physical Connection
The strength of physical contact is a gift horses help you unlock. Horses are highly intelligent, social animals who thrive on positive human interactions. When you're around horses, it's not uncommon for them to start licking and nuzzling you. That's because they seek out physical contact with others as an expression of love and affection.
Horse therapy can help you connect with your body in new ways. For those with a limited range of motion, horses help restore movement and a sense of independence. Horseback riding can help improve muscle tone and mobility while increasing balance, strength, coordination, and endurance, all while having fun! Horseback riding is also known as "therapeutic riding," because it has been shown to heal both mental scars and physical limitations.
Equine-assisted therapy has profound impacts on physical health, and has been shown to reduce heart rate and blood pressure.
The Benefits of Outdoor Exercise
Horse therapy is a great example of how outdoor exercise can help improve your mental and physical health. When you're on horseback, you'll find yourself getting more sleep at night, becoming more relaxed during the day, and even losing weight. You might also develop new skills and increase your confidence!
So how does this happen? It's all about breathing in fresh air. Research shows that exposure to nature has been shown to reduce stress levels, boost energy levels through improved circulation, and reduce feelings of anger and anxiety. It helps reduce tension, decrease headaches due to improved serotonin production, and increases creativity by improving concentration ability. Working with a horse and building a bond outside through physical activity is a powerful therapeutic combination.
Equine-assisted Therapy Benefits
Horse therapy is beneficial for a number of conditions and illnesses. From mental health issues to physical disabilities, here are some ways horses can help:
- Mental health: Horses provide an outlet for self-expression through movement. Horses are also very accepting of people who have learning difficulties, as they do not judge or criticize. They are a great way to improve confidence, build relationships, and make friends.
- Physical disabilities: Horses have been shown to be beneficial for people with physical disabilities. They provide a means of physical exercise that is safe and rewarding, but also allow riders to work at their own pace while being able to communicate with the horse using body language.
- Chronic illnesses: Research has shown that animal-assisted therapies such as equine therapy can help manage pain associated with chronic illnesses like cancer.
It's also important to note that you do not need any previous experience or skills with horses in order to work with a therapy horse.
The following list is not comprehensive, but horse therapy can benefit these specific conditions:
- Autism: Children with autism often respond well to horses because they are gentle animals that do not judge or talk back! They also understand non-verbal communication very well, so it is easier for children to communicate their needs using non-verbal cues rather than verbal communication.
- Asthma: Riding horses helps to improve lung capacity, which can assist with asthma symptoms.
- Cerebral palsy: Horses help children with cerebral palsy improve mobility and overall physical function.
- Depression: Riding a horse can be very relaxing and therapeutic because it helps reduce stress levels and anxiety caused by depression or anxiety disorders.
- Arthritis: Riding a horse is a low-impact activity that provides gentle exercise for people with arthritis.
- Post traumatic stress disorder: Horses help individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. They are particularly effective because they are nonjudgmental and offer unconditional love. These qualities allow people to express themselves in ways that they couldn't before. It also helps them to feel safe again after experiencing trauma.
- Traumatic brain injury: Traumatic brain injuries may cause changes in the way a person moves or thinks. Horseback riding can help improve motor skills and cognitive abilities after this type of injury.
- Coping with loss: Horses are often used as therapy animals after a loved one has died, because they are able to help people come to terms with their loss and build new bonds.
How to Find a Horse Therapist
Finding a horse therapist is as simple as going online, but there are a few things you should know before you get started.
- Ask yourself why you want to see a horse therapist.
- Find out if there's a local organization that provides referrals or can give you guidance about the best choice for your situation.
- Do some research about the type of therapy you want to receive and the different types of professionals who offer it.
- Look for someone who has been certified by an accredited training program or association like the Association of Equine Assisted Counselors.
Horse therapy is a profoundly powerful tool to help recovery and build a strong foundation for healing. It has helped children and adults suffering from a wide variety of physical and mental conditions. Seeing a horse for the first time can be an intimidating experience. But once you get past that fear, getting to know horses and experiencing their healing powers can truly be amazing.