Equine-assisted therapy can be immensely beneficial for issues like depression, anxiety, ADHD, brain injuries, behavioral issues and for people with disabilities. Equine therapy is also an effective treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol use. Tim Risler owns Equine Healing Solutions in Flora, Mississippi, and is a certified equine therapist. He tells us why equine therapy is so transformative for people with addictions. Actions Speak Louder Than Words Horses are extremely sensitive to what humans are feeling and projecting. This is because horses are prey animals and humans are predators. Prey animals mirror their environment in order to feel safe. \u201cIf you have internal stuff going on but are good at hiding it, the horse senses that,\u201d Risler says. The horses may react by keeping their distance or by approaching the person, depending on how the person feels and what they are projecting. This can teach clients valuable lessons about how others may perceive them and leaves little room for inauthenticity \u2014 common themes in early addiction recovery when people are beginning to peel back self-protective layers that have prevented them from knowing and revealing their true selves. Risler gives the example of a client who says they don\u2019t have a problem with assertiveness; they always speak their mind. This same person might find that their interactions with the horses contradict their stated assertiveness. The same situation might occur when a person says they are confident but are actually feeling vulnerable. The horses react to what people do, not what they say. Horses Offer a Blank Slate In traditional psychotherapy, clients talk about situations and feelings from their perspective, projecting their own and others\u2019 roles and reactions onto their narratives. Therapists hear only one side of the story. Horses on the other hand, have no expectations. \u201cOne of the beauties about this experiential work is that it\u2019s hard for addicts to keep a secret about what is actually happening,\u201d Risler says. \u201cA therapist has already heard about a client\u2019s expectations.\u201d Risler explains that in talk therapy, it\u2019s sometimes hard for the therapist to stay out of the way. Horse therapy allows the client to tell their story and receive feedback without preconceived notions. For example, before starting a session, the equine therapist might ask a client how they are doing. The client may respond with \u201cfine.\u201d However, when that person is in the arena, horses keep turning away from him or her. The horses are likely sensing something going on with the client and responding to that. The equine therapist can use this as a learning tool. They may guide the client back to the present moment and help them explore that feeling and what is behind it. As the client becomes more aware of their emotions and begins feeling confident and focused, the horses react very differently toward them. It\u2019s a way of seeing relapse-prevention tools like mindfulness and centering work in real time. Valuable Metaphors for Recovery Equine therapy offers limitless metaphors for recovery. For example, clients are asked to do different activities with the horses. One activity might be to get the horse to move from one location to another. Risler says when asked if the situation reminds them of anything in their lives, for some clients this opens up a new, profound understanding of how their addiction has affected their loved ones. The client can see themselves like the horse, immovable and unbending unless of their own will. They are desperate to get the horse to move, but powerless to do so, much like their loved ones may have felt about getting them into treatment. For the first time, clients understand the helplessness their loved ones felt, unable to force them to get the help they need. \u201cAddicts may finally realize, \u2018Oh my God. I thought I wasn\u2019t doing anything to them. I thought I was just doing it to me,\u2019\u201d Risler says. Lessons in Powerlessness Besides equine-assisted therapy\u2019s proven benefits for some of the underlying issues that contribute to addiction like trauma and mental health issues, it provides important lessons in powerlessness and acceptance. Risler explains that clients learn about the games they play with themselves in an effort to control an uncontrollable situation. \u201cUsually with addictions, people want to change and control a lot of things in their world,\u201d Risler says. Equine-therapy exercises teach a lot of lessons about powerlessness. Admitting we are powerless over our addiction and our life has become unmanageable is the first step of the 12 steps. Equine Therapy in Drug Rehab Because of its positive impact on people with addictions and the underlying issues that contribute to it, some drug and alcohol rehabs are using equine therapy and therapeutic riding as a regular part of their programming. Not only can this experiential approach help recovering addicts address deep emotional issues and develop resilience and confidence, it can also serve as a relapse-prevention practice they can continue after they\u2019ve left treatment. Risler is a proponent of this trend in addiction treatment. \u201cIt is just simply amazing to watch an individual who just transforms; who won\u2019t look you in the eye, won\u2019t say what\u2019s on their mind, and then within days their posture changes, they\u2019re able to speak up, and they are on the road to making positive changes in their life,\u201d he says.