Equine therapy is becoming increasingly popular as we come to recognize the tremendous psychological benefits of spending time with horses. Therapeutic interaction with horses has had incredible success where talk therapy and medication have made little headway.
Just like in any form of therapy, some respond to equine therapy better than others. Distinct populations who have remarkable improvement from working with therapy horses include:
1. Veterans or Those Suffering From PTSD
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) stems from traumatic events involving either physical harm or the threat of physical harm, with veterans being some of those most affected. People with PTSD live in a state of hyper-vigilance typically exhibiting cognitive, physical and emotional responses like fits of rage, extreme irritability and an intensified startle response among others. This makes them unable to integrate back into society which in turn makes them depressed, withdrawn, reclusive and even combative.
Those suffering from PTSD benefit from equine therapy largely due to the horses’ intuitive nature. Horses have a way of sensing and mirroring the emotions of those around them. As they interact with therapy horses, people with PTSD see their emotions reflected in the animals’ reactions e.g. if they’re anxious, stressed or aggressive, the horses respond with nervousness or aggression. This feedback helps individuals learn more about themselves, inspiring them to change their actions, body language, and communication methods and eventually recover from PTSD.
2. Troubled Teens
Troubled youth struggling with various emotional and behavioral issues ranging from teen depression and defiance to eating disorders and drug abuse have shown great improvement after spending time with therapy horses.
Equine therapy helps such teens in several ways: firstly, riding a horse releases feel-good hormones known as endorphins which reduce stress and aggression. Furthermore, working with a large horse, giving commands, grooming, feeding and caring for it fosters a degree of confidence and responsibility that spills over into other aspects of the teen’s life. But most importantly, horses provide perceptive, non-judgmental companionship that is fundamental to helping troubled teens confront their inner demons, open up, discover their inherent strengths and make the necessary positive behavior changes.
3. Individuals With Special Needs
Equine therapy also provides physical, emotional and psychological benefits to those with special needs. This includes those with autism, visual and hearing impairments, muscular dystrophy, learning disorders, amputation or forms of brain injury.
Because the rocking gait and motion of a horse simulates the natural movement of the pelvis when walking, riding therapy horses provides physical therapy for those who have mobility problems. It helps to improve muscle tone, balance, posture as well as motor coordination.
Additionally, autistic kids and those with speech difficulties often improve by learning the right words to use to command or call their therapy horses. Also, being outdoors, grooming the animals, giving them treats, interacting with other people and generally engaging in activities they enjoy goes a long way towards developing their social skills.
With the success rate of equine therapy, horses have once again proved why they are invaluable companions.