For veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, equine therapy is a promising treatment method. Communicating with such a powerful yet gentle animal is a new experience for many veterans, who soon find that the therapeutic benefits are pretty amazing.
Learning to Trust an Equine Therapist
Veterans with PTSD and horses share something in common: neither is quick to trust. Veterans may be extremely wary of their surroundings and anxious around other people. Horses, by nature, have the exact same preservation instincts.
But when a veteran and an equine therapist are brought together, they have to put aside their anxiety and distrust in order to communicate and form a partnership.
Equine therapy participants are always guided by human therapists and knowledgeable equine handlers, but ultimately it is their own effort that pays off in the end, and the result is immeasurably gratifying.
Horses Give Instant Feedback
Another reason equine therapy is so successful is the honest nature of the horses themselves. If they are frightened, it shows in their body language. When they relax, that shows too.
And because horses are prey animals used to being protected by a herd, they are keenly capable of reading the body language of those around them in order to stay alert to danger.
Veterans quickly come to realize that their own body language shows their anxiety or reflects a state of relaxation, and that the horse will react accordingly. The horse’s instant feedback helps equine therapy participants to have greater self-awareness and to adjust their body language and state of mind in the moment in order to achieve the desired result.
Once a basic level of trust has been established, the veteran and his or her equine therapist can learn to work together as a team, building each other’s confidence and self-esteem while having fun at the same time.
Not Just Horsing Around
There are always clear goals with equine therapy, and therapists, counselors and/or psychologists are intimately involved in the process in order to make sure the participants reap the most benefits.
Equine therapy is not a new phenomenon, although it has been gaining in popularity in recent years. Veterans from the 1940s and ’50s and beyond have benefitted from the help of an equine therapist, and if you or someone you love struggles with PTSD after a tour of duty, it could be an ideal solution for them too.