Equine therapy, also known as "Equine-assisted Psychotherapy," has been shown to be extremely effective in reducing the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms of combat veterans, as well as others who experience PTSD, which is an anxiety disorder that occurs after exposure to life-threatening events or injuries and is marked by flashbacks, avoidance of anything that may trigger symptoms, and changes in beliefs and feelings.”
By some estimates, more than 23 million military veterans experience PTSD each year.
Now the good news; newer studies such as this one find that PTSD symptoms dropped 87 percent after just six weeks of therapeutic horsemanship sessions. And maybe even more remarkable is that some of the participants had been suffering PTSD from the Vietnam War. Some of the Vietnam War era Veterans had been experiencing PTSD symptoms for decades.
Equine therapy involves incorporating interaction with horses while receiving counseling from a licensed therapist and the assistance of an equine specialist. This type of therapy provides a hands-on approach - learning by doing - to achieve your personal goals in counseling. Interactions are used to complement the therapeutic approach used by the therapist.
Who benefits from equine therapy?
Equine therapy is offered to children, adults, couples, and families to help treat various struggles. The intuitive nature of the horse allows them to read our non-verbal cues. The feedback of the horse allows insight to bridge connections that aid in solution-finding. Because these connections are made through a hands-on approach, they are likely to have a longer-lasting impact.
What does it look like?
The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (Eagala) method is used to provide equine therapy, facilitated by a licensed therapist and a qualified equine specialist in an arena. The manner in which the horses are used in therapy is based on the discretion of the therapist and the need of the client. The interaction may be casual, waiting on the response of the horse and then guidance by the therapist.
The horses may also be used for a method called Rhythmic Riding, by which the participant actually uses horseback riding as part of their therapy. According to Natural Lifemanship (2018), “Horseback riding provides the rhythmic, patterned, repetitive movement needed to reorganize and heal the brain on a cellular level, to help clients learn to self-regulate, and to allow them to further recognize relationship patterns and deepen intimacy”. The organization further states that Rhythmic Riding can be used to:
Build intimacy in the relationship as a natural progression of Relationship Logic
Help the client develop the ability to self-regulate
Facilitate the processing of trauma
You may request equine therapy or a trained mental health professional may recommend it to you. The licensed equine therapist will discuss this option with you to make sure it is the best fit for your therapeutic needs.