Horses have been used for decades to help rehabilitate physical conditions, especially for disabled patients. More recently, their psychotherapeutic benefits have come to light. This is equine-assisted wellness or therapy, and it’s a big part of our approach at Monuments.
What is equine-assisted wellness?
Equine-assisted therapy or wellness is a form of experiential therapy that includes horses and a specialist psychologist or counselor working together with a student to create positive change in the student’s life. Our counselors have specialized training in equine-assisted therapy beyond all of their mental health training.
How does equine-assisted therapy work? Is there evidence of its success?
By caring for and connecting with horses, our Monuments students experience a wide range of therapeutic benefits.
Research has shown equine-assisted therapy to be effective for treating adolescents experiencing depression, anxiety, and/or trauma-related symptoms, as well as ADHD/ dissociative disorders, and other mental health issues. Studies have found that adolescents in equine-assisted therapy showed increased confidence, self-esteem, assertiveness, emotional regulation, and resourcefulness.
What kinds of skills can equine-assisted wellness help develop?
Research overall, and our experience at Monuments, has shown this therapy to have numerous psychotherapeutic benefits. These are just a few of the areas we see change in our equine-assisted therapy.
- Trust — Learning to trust the horse, the therapist, and yourself is a very powerful developmental step.
- Anxiety reduction — Contact with animals significantly reduces physiological anxiety levels. Our trained therapy horses overcome student’s initial fears and create open affection.
- Depression and isolation — Horses are unconditionally accepting, and they have intense non-verbal (of course) communication abilities that students respond to.
- Mindfulness — Horses are very sensitive and pick up on others’ emotions quickly, and they accurately reflect these feelings back to the student. This creates a feedback loop that allows the student to learn new positive ways of thinking and being.
- Impulse regulation — Troubled teens can be very impulsive but that doesn’t work with horses. Horses demand communication that is calm and non-reactive. This helps the student to learn skills of emotional awareness, emotion regulation, self-control, and impulse modification.
- Positive identity — Through working closely with the horse, our adolescent boys build a gradual sense of acceptance and feeling “liked.” This enhances the child’s positive self-concept and identity. The bonding with the horse is key.
- Communication — These communications with a large animal teach adolescents how to communicate by stepping outside of their typical comfort zone. They need to develop intuition and patience. This is because horses have a real sensitivity to non-verbal communication.
What disorders or conditions can equine-assisted wellness help treat?
At Monuments, we use equine-assisted therapy to treat these psychological and behavioral issues:
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse
- Attention deficit disorder
- Abuse issues
- Behavioral issues
- Relationship problems
- Communication difficulties
Why do horses help relieve anxiety and depression?
Teens often find it difficult to open up and process painful emotions and experiences. But the presence of a 900- to 2,000-pound horse can change everything. Simply their presence creates a sense of calm and peace. The horse will only react to the teenager’s behavior and emotions, without the usual baggage of biases encountered at home or in other social settings.
Horses are keen observers, and they are very sensitive to movement and emotion. They often mirror a teenager’s behavior or emotions. This conveys a sense of understanding that the teenager understands, and it makes them feel safe and accepted.
Horses also allow adolescents to align their experiences with the horses at the moment. This can allow them to open up about emotional challenges, past experiences, or life transitions using the horse as a reference point. This allows the teen to overcome the feeling of vulnerability that could otherwise be keeping him from opening up.
Equine therapy reduces anxiety and depression through physiological changes. Studies show that animal-assisted therapy reduces cortisol, the stress hormone. In addition, spending time with these large, placid animals lowers blood pressure. It also increases the release of oxytocin, a natural chemical in the brain that promotes feelings of positivity and connection.
Will my child be safe during equine-assisted wellness?
At Monuments, our equine therapists all have extensive experience managing both horses and humans. We only have horses on the premises who are highly trained, have become thoroughly accustomed to young people, and who have proven to be calm and friendly. While accidents are always possible in any environment, we make every possible effort to make equine-assisted wellness no different than any other type of treatment.
Schedule a Consultation Today!
If you're interested in learning more about equine-assisted wellness please contact us for a consultation at (800) 559-1980 or fill out our contact us form. We will discuss your needs and concerns, and determine your best course of action.