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Animals can be powerful agents for profound healing. Horses have been an integral part of therapeutic treatment for many years. In 1969, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH International) formed to provide equine treatment for individuals with handicaps and disabilities. Today, PATH has nearly 5,000 certified instructors. 

In 1999, the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) emerged as a professional experiential therapy. The EAGALA method requires that an equine specialist and licensed, credentialed mental health professional work together with clients in the same arena at all times. 

What Is Equine Therapy?a woman smiles outside in a pasture with a horse in her equine therapy program

Equine therapy (also known as “equine-assisted therapy” or “horse therapy”) is a form of experiential therapy. Experiential therapy integrates expressive activities and tools. Equine therapy can provide an invaluable opportunity to connect therapeutically with horses. In just a short time, you can build a unique and special relationship with your horse. 

This therapy can boost: 

  • Self-esteem
  • Personal accountability
  • Social interactions
  • Moral responsibility

Certified equine therapists conduct equine therapy sessions. Each session consists of various guided interactions between you (the client) and the horse. You may get to feed, groom, and lead your horse. Despite some misconceptions, equine therapy doesn’t involve riding horses.

Evidence for Equine Therapy as Treatment

Studies show promising results in the treatment of several disorders including: 

  • Dissociative disorders
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Depression
  • Anxiety 

The research revealed that many participants describe positive experiences in equine therapy. Participant quotes revealed that people found a sense of calmness, responsibility and excitement during their experience. 

Research on veterans receiving PTSD treatment also yielded positive benefits. One study found that participants who engaged in equine therapy experienced a reduction in symptoms of both depression and stress compared to participants in the control group.

Equine therapy has also become a popular treatment option for children with autism. The animal interaction creates emotional connection, and children can improve language, sensory and cognitive skills through the therapy sessions.

Why Horses Are Great Therapy Animals

Horses have a strong awareness of emotional temperament and nonverbal cues. In other words, they can read humans very well. Just as they attune to your behaviors and feelings, you can learn to attune to theirs.

Horses are also large animals, which means you can’t tell them what to do or make them do a certain task just because you want them to do it that way. This offers a unique advantage over the common therapy dog. Many people have experience with training and responding to dogs, but it’s less likely they’ve had such interactions with horses.

In equine therapy, you need to learn how to collaborate with horses. You need to learn how to build a trusting relationship, which is the core of most human struggles. 

Your interaction with your therapy horse can reveal rich information about your patterns and behaviors. Equine therapy can provide emotional experiences that cultivate essential skills like:

  • Trust
  • Communication
  • Social connection
  • Self-acceptance
  • Impulse control
  • Spiritual connection

Clients must practice patience when interacting with the horses. You need to learn how to remain calm, exhibit self-control and practice applicable problem-solving techniques. Through the horse interactions, you inherently have a sense of responsibility and accountability over your actions. All these things can positively benefit mental health. 

Who Is a Good Candidate for Equine Therapy?

People with all kinds of conditions can benefit from equine therapy. In fact, it’s been so beneficial that more than 700 programs around the world have certified specialists providing such treatment. Many professional centers utilize this experiential therapy in treating:

  • Substance use disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Behavioral or conduct disorders
  • Autism
  • Grief, trauma, and loss

People who are resistant to more conventional methods of treatment may yield positive benefits from the novelty of equine work. Conventional treatment can include individual therapy and groups focused on emotional processing, relapse prevention and self-esteem. While these methods are highly effective, equine therapy provides a very new and different experience. You’re outside interacting with a large animal! That’s much different than sitting around and talking about your feelings.

Does Someone Need to Have Experience with Horses?

No! You won’t be riding the horses, and facilities that offer horse therapy have trained professionals on-site at all times. They’ll provide you with all the information required. The best thing you can bring is an open mind. 

What to Expect During an Equine Therapy Session

Most equine therapy sessions start with a quick briefing and introduction. The equine specialist will tell you about the program and provide you with the information you need to get started. 

You can expect to start by building your relationship with your horse gradually. You may begin by simply standing next to him or her and then progressing to light touch. Eventually, you may transition into walking, putting on a halter and brushing your horse’s hair. The average session ranges from about 45 minutes to an hour. You may start feeling better within a single session. Many people benefit from attending a session once per week for a few months. This length of time gives you the chance to form a bond with your horse. 

At The Ranch TN, we offer equine-assisted therapy as part of our treatment program. We believe in creating unique experiences for our clients. We also believe in providing therapy options that allow for holistic healing. 

Our comfortable, home-like campuses provide a perfect backdrop for equine therapy. Removed from the chaotic noise of everyday life and tucked away into nature, you have full permission to focus on yourself and your recovery. 

Want to learn more about how we can help you or a loved one? Contact us today to learn more about our services.

 

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