The horse is a beautiful and socially complex animal. They’re as intelligent as they are graceful, and thus have fit very specific roles in humanity’s development since ancient times.
Owning and caring for a horse can not only be a rewarding relationship, but also emotionally beneficial. Equine therapy has been around since 600 B.C. and has been making a comeback in recent years. Equine therapy can be beneficial to a wide range of patients:
- Those suffering from PTSD
- Physical therapy patients
- Those with autism.
- Emotionally dysfunctional patients
Bonding with Your Horse
There are many ways equine therapy can help patients of all types. The techniques and processes themselves vary depending on the patient. Someone suffering PTSD will focus on desensitizing trouble areas while working through their trauma, while someone with autism would likely focus on communication skills.
- Therapeutic Riding A generalized term to denote a wide range of riding activities, each specifically used for therapeutic purposes. Therapeutic riding is provided by a specially trained person who may also be under the supervision of someone licensed in hippotherapy. The benefits of therapeutic riding include improved emotional, physical, and cognitive abilities of the rider.
- Hippotherapy A form of physical, speech, or occupational therapy. Prescribed and provided by a trained and licensed therapist specialized in either physical and occupational techniques, or speed and language. This technique uses the precise movements of the horse to help refine a patient’s specific motor or sensory input, thus helping to build a foundation in the horse’s movements. This provides a carry-over to other aspects and the therapist can build from there.
- Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy A type of experiential psychotherapy centered directly on interactions with horses. Most often this type of therapy helps those with mental or emotional troubles. This includes those with depression, PTSD, anxiety disorders, or those undergoing life transitions. This type of therapy is very detailed and specific, and should only be conducted by someone specially trained in such techniques. Be sure to evaluate the credentials of anyone you’re interested in helping with this, as any therapist should be open and welcome to discuss any training they’ve had.
- Equine-Facilitated Learning Another term used to reference an array of learning activities all aimed at improving social and emotional skills by interacting with horses. The facilitators of this therapy can be educators, business consultants, personal coaches, or certified in alternative health fields. It’s important to note that this is not technically considered psychotherapy, though it may be therapeutic for the clients to learn and grow as they interact with the horses.
What This Means for Parents
Many centers have found that the bond earned with a horse can even help troubled or “at-risk” teens. Studies have shown it can assist with learning cooperation, healthy communication skills, and an increased sense of empathy as they learn how their actions, both good and bad, affect the horse’s bond with them.
Tyler Jacobson is a father, husband, and writer, with past experience in content writing and outreach for parenting organizations and teen boys ranches. His areas of focus include: parenting, education, social media, addiction, and issues facing teenagers today. Follow Tyler on: Twitter | Linkedin