What is Horse or Equine Therapy?

People have sought out relationships with horses since we first laid eyes on each other.  Riding horses can be exhilarating, but there’s something even more profound. Most of us who own horses talk about their “therapeutic” value. Being in the barn grooming, feeding, and otherwise caring for our horses reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and improves overall health. Yet, it is the companionship with our equine partners that is the foundation of our growth in relationship to these animals. Being with our horses is “therapy.”

The power of this relationship has not been lost on medical professionals. “Equine therapy” is a popular tool to use with a variety of populations. But what is equine therapy, and how is it used?

Equine Therapy Defined

According to PATH International, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, there are many different types of “equine-assisted activities.” In its broadest sense, any interaction between a person and a horse is an equine-assisted activity.

Equine-Assisted Therapy has a more specific goal. It is a treatment which uses horses to reach rehabilitative goals that are bounded by a medical professional’s scope of practice. Equine-Assisted Therapy is not an activity run by local horse clubs, church groups, or trainers. Instead, it is overseen by a medical professional, usually a licensed psychotherapist or physical therapist. Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy, which is used by addiction treatment facilities, veterans’ groups, and trauma centers, is always overseen by a licensed mental health professional. These types of therapies rarely involve riding the horse.

A large body of research indicates the efficacy of Equine Assisted Therapy as a tool for treating adolescents experiencing depression, anxiety, and/or trauma-related symptoms. Moreover, equine therapy has proven to be effective in addressing ADHD, autism, dissociative disorders, and other mental health diagnoses.

What are the benefits?

A large body of research indicates the efficacy of Equine Assisted Therapy as a tool for treating adolescents experiencing depression, anxiety, and/or trauma-related symptoms. Moreover, equine therapy has proven to be effective in addressing ADHD, autism, dissociative disorders, and other mental health diagnoses.

How could Equine Therapy help you?

  • Confidence
  • Physical Skills
  • Learn about Horses
  • Mental Health
  • Social Skills
  • Stress reduction and relaxation
  • Connection with nature
  • A sense of community
  • Having fun!

What are the different types of therapy?

1. Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy

Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy – EFP – is a type of experiential psychotherapy built around interactions with horses. EFP can be used to assist people with mental and emotional difficulties, including anxiety and mood disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), behavioral challenges, or undergoing life transitions or losses. The horse gives feedback to the client, therapist and others involved in the session. The horse is respected as a partner in the treatment session. Most therapists will integrate EFP with other therapeutic techniques that help clients integrate and extend what they experience.

2. Equine-Facilitated Learning

Equine-Facilitated Learning – EFL – is a term covering a wide array of social and emotional learning activities organized around horse experiences. EFL facilitators may be experienced  educators , business consultants, personal coaches or certified in alternative health fields. Practitioners of EFL are not regulated or licensed; consumers should ask about the EFL practitioner’s background and qualifications. EFL may contribute to positive outcomes for a client although the activity itself is not therapy.

Many EFL programs are designed for youth. Such programs help troubled or at-risk young people to build resilience and healthy ego strength. EFL allows an experiential and behavioral approach to teaching abstract concepts such as boundaries, teamwork and cooperation. 

3. Hippotherapy

Hippotherapy is a form of physical, occupational or speech therapy in which a therapist uses the characteristic movements of a horse to provide carefully graded motor and sensory input. Hippotherapy must be prescribed and provided by a trained and licensed physical, occupational or speech and language therapist. The foundation of sensorimotor integration established in hippotherapy can improve neurological function and sensory processing, which can be generalized to a wide range of daily activities. The movement of the horse is a means to a treatment goal when utilizing hippotherapy as a treatment strategy.

4. Therapeutic Riding

Therapeutic Riding (TR) is a somewhat generalized term encompassing riding activities pursued specifically for therapeutic outcome. Therapeutic riding is most often provided by a riding instructor with special training, who in many cases will be under the direction of a hippotherapist (see above). TR uses horseback riding to positively impact cognitive, physical, emotional and social well-being for participants. Long recognized as a therapy of tremendous benefit to children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy or Downs syndrome, TR has now broadened and shows tremendous promise in treatment of autism, sensory integration disorders, language development and trauma recovery in children.

Therapeutic Riding provides benefits in the areas of therapy, education sport and recreation & leisure. Throughout the world, there are thousands of individuals with special needs who experience the rewarding benefits of horseback riding.

(Excerpts from http://narha.org/resources-education/resources/eaat)

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