By Magdalena Horn
Even back in ancient Greece, horses were used to help relieve both mental and physical pain. At Spring Gardens Recovery, we believe in its value as well.
What is Equine Therapy?
Equine therapy is a type of therapy tool that, as the name suggests, revolves around using horses in therapy sessions.
While it’s not a therapy by itself, it can help supplement other types of counseling. Aided by the animals, the focus is to help you build a new awareness of yourself and your surroundings. Sometimes referred to as Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapy (EAAT) or hippotherapy, is a form of experiential therapy, which focuses less on talking and more on actions, activities, and your own body movements.
While our first records of it come from Hippocrates, the therapy as we know it today was initially developed in the 1960s in Germany. It came to the U.S. when scientists in the 1980s introduced it after studying abroad.
For thousands of years, equine therapy has been used as an aid to recover from mental or physical illnesses that make someone feel disconnected from themselves. Equine therapy is highly successful at treating disorders like anxiety, depression, PTSD, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis.
Addiction Puts You Out of Touch With Yourself: Equine Therapy Looks to Fix That
Equine therapy uses a groundwork-based structure. Sessions focus on grooming the horse, walking alongside, and doing various activities together--all to build a close bond with the animal. The trust you build with the horse is powerful: horses are empathic creatures, highly in tune to the emotions around them. They pick up on your needs and respond to you.
That sensitivity creates a calming setting, free of scrutiny: they’re horses, they don’t judge. That helps strengthen your confidence. If you feel overwhelmed by traditional talk therapy, this can take off some of that pressure and help you open up.
How does it work?
Sessions are held by a certified equine therapist who guides you through interacting with the horse, and helps you see yourself in relation to the animal.
The calming aspect of working with animals, not to mention how it offers a chance for seeing yourself in the horse, opens up the door to rebuild skills that were depleted during your addiction. You become more aware of yourself not only in your relationship to the horse but also in your relationship to yourself and others.
While equine therapy isn’t a replacement for counseling and psychotherapy, it offers a holistic, hands-on way to strengthen what your other therapies are providing.
Equine therapy addresses issues such as rebuilding your self-worth, creating routines, being aware of your emotions, controlling harmful impulses, and reestablishing your sense of purpose--all with the unconditional love and gentleness of the horse.
Ultimately, it's all about self-reflection. The horse acts as a mirror for our good and bad feelings, reflecting how we see ourselves and how our behaviors interact with reality.
How can it help me?
Studies show that animal-assisted therapy lowers stress and pain levels. This is why we offer both equine therapy and pet therapy here at Spring Gardens Recovery.
Equine therapy is becoming more and more popular for treating a broad range of disorders. Because it’s been so successful, many recovery centers offer equine therapy either in their own facilities or by partnering with nearby resources.
Equine therapy offers a wide array of strengths and benefits, such as:
- Helping to reconnect with one’s own emotions.
- Becoming more aware of one’s body again.
- Repairing interpersonal skills.
- Learning to control harmful impulses.
- Developing a sense of purpose.
- Reestablishing a connection with the environment.
- Creating routines.
...All with the love and unconditional gentleness of the horse. Addiction can cause these skills to suffer, and it helps to know you aren’t alone when you’re learning to rebuild.
That companionship is vital: horses are pack animals. Horses remember you as their friend, and they can read your body language as well. They’re even considered tonal creatures, which means that they can hear the difference between something said two different ways. Horses--especially therapy horses--are gentle, patient creatures.
Horses expect routine. They look for patterns in everything, making them wonderful at teaching how to establish good habits and healthy emotions--as well as teaching you how to recognize bad habits and unhelpful feelings too.
Horses make things better
Substance abuse disorder can leave you feeling inadequate, with low self-worth and confidence. In equine therapy, where you’ll learn how to to take care of the horse and bond with them, the trust of the horse rebuilds your confidence--and confidence is everything.
In addition, substance addiction often develops in order to cope with underlying pain. Equine therapy can help in the process of addressing what might’ve led you to drug or alcohol abuse in the first place.
Equine therapy has been shown to have success at treating anxiety, depression, Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as schizophrenia and personality disorders.
What We Offer
Spring Gardens Recovery offers Equine-Assisted Therapy and is certified by both Eagala and PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship). Therapy is conducted at an off-site facility.
Our program is currently on hold, but we hope to restart soon with our equine therapy sessions.
Magdalena Horn is a writer and equestrian. She has worked with horses for several years and has assisted with equine therapy for children with developmental challenges and executive functioning issues.