Horses are So Much More Than Just for Riding
Ever look into the eyes of a horse and see a deep wisdom there? Ever watch a horse gallop and note the epitome of grace and power so beautifully laced together there? Ever ride a horse and sense in its gait an immense patience and a strong confidence working in tandem there?
If so, you may well have learned some of the same lessons horse-teacher, Ashleen Lee, did over the course of her horse-loving life.1
10 Things I learned from Equine Therapy
Lee said she learned confidence managing and training horses over the years. She learned responsibility caring for horses, day in and day out. She learned the value of hard work, spending hours and hours knowing that good things don’t happen right away. She now understands that nothing works all the time; you have to be determined, driven and flexible. She learned patience knowing the horse she was training was going to make lots of mistakes along the way.
She learned to be very aware of what’s around you, because with horses anything in an instant can change, and they will react accordingly. She learned to control her emotions so as to not discourage the horse she was riding. She learned to be brave. Staying calm is key to keeping horses calm. She learned to be humble. It’s not about you, it’s more about the horse. And lastly she learned to be tenacious, cause talent only goes so far, and there’s always something more to learn.
Horse experts, therapists, and Special Education teachers have been practicing and extolling the benefits of Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT) for decades. For many, seeing a therapist, or learning in a classroom, just doesn’t cut it when it comes to growing and overcoming whatever obstacles are in the way of leading a healthy and productive life. Some people need to get outside, be active, and do both with horses.2 Lisa Esposito, writing for U.S. News and World Report, calls this “on-the-ground” therapy, and maintains that such has benefited well beyond the simple joy of just riding horses.2
Equine-Assisted Therapy is a professional health and emotional treatment conducted by licensed clinicians, in an horse-oriented environment, performing horse-based activities, with horses, especially chosen for their temperament toward people. It is ultimately a careful pairing of troubled and vulnerable humans with horses that are already by nature highly sensitive and vulnerable themselves. And what results is a bond or a relationship of mutual trust and understanding…the perfect hotbed for successful therapy.
I Saw a Child
John Anthony Davies, poet extraordinaire, may have best captured in verse how humans, especially those who are disabled or disordered, can benefit from being with and around horses.
“I Saw a Child
by John Anthony Davies
I saw a child, who couldn’t walk, sit on a horse, laugh or talk.
Then ride it through a field of daisies, and yet
he could not walk unaided.
I saw a child, no legs below, sit on a horse and make it go.
Through woods of green and places he had never been;
to sit and stare, except from a chair.
I saw a child who could only crawl mount a horse and sit up tall.
Put it through degrees of paces and laugh
at the wonder in our faces.
I saw a child born into strife, take up and hold the reins of life.
And that same child was heard to say,
“Thank you God for showing me the way…”
What EAT is Used to Treat
Equine-Assisted Therapy, or EAT, is used by physical, speech and occupational therapists. Special Education teachers use EAT to treat children with Autism. Psychotherapists use EAT for people with emotional trauma and PTSD, and drug and alcohol counselors use EAT with those suffering from addiction. How about ADD, OCD, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, brain injury, self-harm, developmental delay, Down Syndrome, RAD, and abuse? Yes, indeed, and Cerebral Palsy and fatalistic and catastrophic thinking too.
Patients and professionals alike claim there is something almost magical about caring for and riding horses. And they point to the motor, emotional and sensory sensations they can tap into with horses that make all the difference. Hanging out with horses couldn’t be more natural and non-threatening to those who are struggling mightily, both personally and socially.
“I use horses to help folks heal.”
Holly Hansen, EAT Psychotherapist
If your son is struggling and you feel Equine Therapy may be right for him, call and talk to a specialist today at 1.800.559.1820.
The Benefits are Real, Very Real
By first establishing a basis of “equal footing” between man and animal, then working from simple verbal interactions such as basic touching and petting, to caring for and feeding, to being able to saddle, bridle and ride a horse, trust and confidence result. This all lays the foundation for the multiple benefits of Equine-Assisted Therapy.3
“Since horses have similar behaviors with humans…it’s easy for people to create a connection with a horse.”
The Anxiety Treatment Center
Used in conjunction with Cognitive, Play, Story-Telling, and Talk Therapies, studies show there are both mental and physical benefits from caring for and riding horses, including4:
- Decreased blood pressure
- Reduced stress levels and tension
- Decreased anxiety and depression
- Increased self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-respect
- Improved patience and trust
- A broadened sense of responsibility and accountability
- Increased positive interaction with family and friends
- Develop fine motor skills, strength, balance and muscle control
- And improved fitness.
The Science Behind the Benefits of Equine Therapy
Based on a growing body of research in Neurology and Bio-Physics, the brain is constantly communicating with the body, assessing its surroundings and making whatever adjustments necessary. Due most often to injury, illness or trauma, the pathways this communication navigates is impaired or broken, which leads to various forms of mental and health disorders or disabilities.5 EAT works to repair or rehabilitate these pathways.
New studies are starting to show that EAT is indeed effective in helping with balance, coordination, and self-confidence. Just a horse’s rhythm and motion is therapeutic, and the human’s body gains strength from adjusting to its gait, says Claire Dorotik-Nana, an LMFT, in ‘Equine Therapy is Effective,” Psych Central, 2012.
Several national associations are now affirming the impact of EAT, providing training and certification and ongoing resources, pointing to a substantial amount of anecdotal evidence and a growing mountain of scientific data that EAT works.
The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) is committed to setting the standard for professional EAT excellence in how horses and humans work together to improve the quality of life and mental health of individuals, families, and groups worldwide…education, training, professional standards, innovation, and support to professionals in the field.
If you are looking for top treatment centers that incorporate Equine Therapy as part of their program, call 1.800.559.1820.
1 “Ten Lessons I Have Learned from Horses,” Ashleen Lee, Freedom Woods, 2013.
2 “Equine Therapy: How Horses Help Humans Heal,” Lisa Esposito, U.S. News and World Report, 2016.
3 “Equine Assisted Therapy,” The Anxiety Treatment Center, 2018.
4 “Equine-Assisted Therapy: Physical and Emotional Benefits,” Zareba Systems.
5 “The Science Behind Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapeutic Riding,” Jan Brinn, Michigan State University Extension, 2013.