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The Healing Power of Horses: Why Equine Therapy is Effective

Last updated: January 25, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

When I go horseback riding, I often get lost in my thoughts and escape the stresses of everyday life, fully immersing myself in the present moment. It’s easy to understand how an experience like mine could be useful in reducing anxiety, but I was wondering about some of the other benefits of riding horses. Are there physical or psychological benefits that individuals can gain from horseback riding?

BenefitDescription
Physical exerciseHorse riding requires balance and coordination, which can help to improve physical fitness and strength. It’s also a low-impact form of exercise, which means it’s easier on the joints than activities like running or jumping.
Stress reliefBeing around animals has been shown to have a calming effect on people, and equine therapy can be a particularly relaxing activity. The horse’s rhythmic motion can help promote a sense of well-being and reduce stress.
Mental stimulationHorse riding requires concentration and problem-solving skills, which can help to improve cognitive function and memory. It can also be a challenging activity requiring persistence and determination, boosting self-esteem and confidence.
Social interactionHorse riding can be a social activity that allows people to connect with others with a shared interest in horses. It can also provide a sense of community and support.
Outdoor recreationHorse riding can be a great way to spend time in nature and get some fresh air. Being in natural surroundings has been linked to improved mental health and well-being.

Whether you’re an experienced rider or someone who has never even touched a horse, the calming and invigorating effects of horse riding are hard to deny. From the rhythmic sway of the horse’s gait to the stunning views of the natural world that you can take in while you ride, there are countless reasons why riding horses is helpful.

Why horses are good therapy.

Horses can be a good form of therapy due to their innate ability to pick up on nonverbal cues, which enables them to sense and respond to human emotions. This characteristic and their natural sensitivity as herd animals make them well-suited for therapy for various physical and psychological issues.

Horses have advanced cognitive skills with well-developed emotional awareness. In addition, their social and ethological characteristics make them able to show and feel empathy. These traits make horses good therapy for people with mental and physical disabilities and help develop life skills.

The sheer size of horses may make people think they are dangerous and prevent them from being therapeutic for people with disabilities. Still, with the help of trained professionals and horses, they create an ideal environment that enables people to interact physically and socially while benefiting from the healing properties horses provide.

Picture of riders using horses for equine therapy.

Horses can be an excellent form of therapy for various ailments, and they are suitable for people of all ages, including children, veterans, and those with disabilities. Horses are highly attuned to their surroundings and have an innate sixth sense.

Because horses are herd animals, they rely on each other to pick up on any dangers, making them excellent at nonverbal communication. This ability enables them to quickly sense and respond to human emotions, often mirroring the emotional state of the person they are with.

Whether you participate in horse riding, care for horses, or simply spend time with them, horses have a range of healing qualities that can help people cope with their struggles. In summary, horse riding can be a therapeutic activity that provides physical, mental, and emotional benefits.

What are the different types of Equine Therapy?

Equine therapy, also known as horse therapy or equine-assisted therapy, refers to a range of therapeutic interventions involving horses. These interventions can be used to address a variety of physical, emotional, and cognitive challenges, and they can be conducted in a variety of settings, including clinics, training facilities, and community centers.

Some therapy only consists of people interacting with horses. In contrast, other therapy helps with the physical aspect of the body by riding the horse. There are several different types of equine therapy, including:

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

This type of equine therapy involves working with a trained mental health professional and a horse to address psychological and emotional challenges.

Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) is a no-riding therapy that helps people with mental disabilities. With the help of mental health professionals, equine specialists, and horses to assist the patient with emotional or mental issues. People with mental and substance abuse can also benefit from EAP therapy.  

Equine Assisted Learning

Equine-assisted learning (EAL) allows learners to physically care for and look after the horse to help them develop life skills to improve communication, problem-solving, and leadership skills. This type of therapy assists people with learning disabilities or social difficulties.

Hippotherapy

Hippotherapy makes use of physical, occupational, and speech therapy. The horse’s movement provides a therapeutic treatment that gives motor and sensory inputs to the rider. A horse’s walking gait is similar to that of a human walk and is often used for several physical disabilities.

Hippotherapy can also help with speech impairment. Riders must use verbal cues to communicate with the horse, such as whoa or walk, encouraging vocal stimuli.

Therapeutic Horseback Riding

Therapeutic horseback riding addresses the physical needs of the person. They are assisted by a qualified therapeutic riding instructor and assistants to help them ride and work with horses on the ground. In addition, it allows people that have gone through traumatic experiences to rebuild self-esteem, confidence, and trust.

Overall, equine therapy can be a powerful and effective tool for helping individuals improve their physical, emotional, and cognitive well-being.

How do horses help in Equine Therapy?

As we previously mentioned, horses are sensitive beings and can pick up on people’s emotional states and physical disabilities.

Horses will mirror the person’s mood, reflecting their fears. For instance, if the person approaches the horse angrily and grabs the halter, the horse will shy away, jerking his head or possibly running away from that person.

This is a good way for mental health professionals to ask why they are angry. But unfortunately, patients will deny their true feelings until they understand how their moods affect the horse’s reactions providing the ability for emotional awareness.

Horses are honest and don’t lie about how they feel. Instead, horses will make their feelings known. This helps create boundaries and teaches the patients to deal with situations and think about their surroundings, giving them problem-solving skills.

The sheer size of a horse can be intimidating for people. However, those who own horses understand the difficulty of getting a thousand-pound animal to do what you want it to when it doesn’t feel like it. Nonetheless, any horse, no matter the size, can be a willing companion when their trust is earned.

This helps build communication skills, trust, and empathy while also providing a way of overcoming fears.

It helps people build trusting relationships with non-judgemental and unbiased beings that teach us humility and patience. Horses have a calming effect on people. They are feel-good animals and provide a safe space to discuss feelings and emotions.

Caring for horses requires time, dedication, and concentration. It takes selflessness to care for, groom, and look after their well-being. This gives the person a sense of purpose and responsibility, building confidence and self-esteem.

Here is a list of some ways horses can help in equine therapy.

  • Builds muscle strength
  • Improves balance
  • Helps with coordination
  • Increases flexibility
  • Helps regain self-esteem
  • Re-established social ties
  • Provides encouragement through regaining functionality and mobility
  • Provides a space for problem-solving skills
  • Builds confidence
  • Heightening emotional awareness
  • Provides social skills
  • Teaches trust and empathy
  • Teaches patience
  • Builds humility

Why is riding a horse good therapy?

Riding horses provides the rider with immediate feedback from the horse. In addition, it builds a connection between rider and horse, forming a partnership that needs both parties to communicate to have a coherent relationship.

Horse riding positively impacts those who regularly engage in the sport. It provides the rider with relaxation and reduces stress. In addition, it provides relief from anxiety, increasing mental activity while at the same time increasing circulation and flexibility.

It brings you outside into the outdoors, allowing for a more social environment interacting with people, animals, and nature.

From personal experience, equine therapy, specifically riding, has always lifted my mood and provided me with the therapeutic ability to connect to my horse. Horses don’t judge or pretend to be something else.

Unless you have experienced it firsthand, the sense of freedom and untroubled sensation you get from horse riding is somewhat unexplainable. It’s fun and increases serotonin levels which ease anxiety and depression.

How does riding a horse help anxiety?

Horses are social animals and use body language and sound to communicate with their herd. They use the same signals to communicate with humans, providing an interactive relationship.

Anxiety can often cause you to be anti-social and reduce your interaction with others. Horse riding will improve your social skills, bringing you into an environment with like-minded people.

I also think the intimidating size of horses can help people with anxiety because it provides an environment where they have to give in to the feeling of vulnerability, forcing them to put their trust in an imposing animal that has the potential to hurt them.

In fact, just spending time around animals like horses can help stop anxiety symptoms.

Picture of a horse rider being led and followed by a dog.

Can anyone benefit from horse riding?

Whether you seek the professional assistance of therapists, physiotherapists, or speech coaches or want to enjoy the benefits of horses and horse riding. Then, horse riding can help anyone willing to form a partnership with a horse and ready to put the work into the relationship.

Horses are not just for abled bodies. They provide many benefits to people with addictions, behavioral problems, and even brain injuries and paralysis.

Horse riding benefits people with the following issues

  • People suffering from addictions and substance abuse
  • Eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia
  • Single persons or groups suffering from relationship issues
  • People suffering from anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Aids with depression
  • Amputees
  • Children and adults with autism
  • Down syndrome people
  • People with cerebral palsy
  • Visually and auditory disabilities
  • Patients suffering from strokes
  • Patients with brain disorders
  • People that have multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy.

Conclusion

Horses can be a highly beneficial therapy for many different physical and psychological problems that can help young children to veterans. In addition, horses have an incredible sixth sense that provides them with nonverbal communication skills. This can positively impact people’s lives and provide them with the necessary skills to cope with daily life stressors.

FAQs

Who benefits the most from equine therapy?

Equine therapy can be particularly helpful for people who have experienced trauma or have physical, emotional, or cognitive challenges, especially children with developmental delays or disabilities and veterans with PTSD.

Does equine therapy really work?

There is evidence tthat suggest equine therapy can be effective in certain situations. For example, research has shown that horse therapy can benefit individuals with physical disabilities, helping to improve balance, coordination, and mobility. In addition equine therapy is effective in reducing anxiety and improving social skills in children with autism.

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