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Mental Health

Equine Therapy: How Horses Help With Mental Health

— April 27, 2023

The improved self-esteem also boosts riders’ mental health they gain from being in the great outdoors.

Have you ever had the pleasure of experiencing the tranquility of nature while riding a horse on a beautiful woodland trail? If you have, you know firsthand how therapeutic and restorative horse riding can be.

The connection between yourself and the horse as you navigate the winding path is remarkable. However, equine therapy might seem unfamiliar or even strange for those unfamiliar with horses. You’ll be amazed to learn how horses help with mental health through equine therapy.

What is equine therapy?

Equine therapy, called Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT), uses horses to promote mental and physical well-being through various activities. Modern equine therapy originated in the 1960s, and its use and popularity have only risen since. 

A recent study conducted by Columbia University showed that EAT helped veterans struggling with PTSD and depression. It’s also popularly used for children and teenagers with anxiety and developmental disorders.

How can horses be used as a therapy for people?

There’s a reason why horse lovers are so enthusiastic. With everything from casual riding to horse racing, these animals can have a massive impact on our lives. 

Most people picture horse riding as the sole focus of equine therapy, but it’s more than that. Feeding, cleaning, and caring for horses also factor into EAT practices. Taking patients to the equine environment of the stables also exposes them to sensory stimulation that can improve their confidence and anxiety over time.

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Photo by Kelvin Valerio from Pexels

One activity commonly used in equine therapy is planning. Allowing patients to plan their day around caring for the horse improves their self-esteem, organization, and trust. This is especially useful for those with severe anxiety, who would otherwise struggle to stick to a schedule without becoming overwhelmed.

Caring for an animal also builds trust between patients and other people. The proper communication and problem-solving required to care for horses are great for team building. It also has an encouraging effect on the development of struggling children and teens.

Why are horses good for your mental health?

Horses can improve mental health through mirroring behavior. Being herd animals, horses are susceptible to their surroundings. Those suffering from various mental health problems like anxiety often see their emotions and behaviors replicated by the horse.

Using the horse as a substitute, patients can talk to therapists about their worries and thoughts through the eyes of the horse. Describing the horse’s attitude and imagining their thoughts is common in EAT.

When the focus is on something other than the patient, they can be more candid about their feelings. Talking about the horse also allows patients to remain calm when discussing otherwise stressful topics. 

How do horses help with anxiety?

One way that horses help with anxiety is by being nonjudgmental. So many people avoid seeking help with their mental health for fear of judgment. Horses, however, can’t judge. Patients are offered a neutral environment to discuss their problems around horses.

The mirroring behavior of horses also allows patients to feel understood uniquely. This encourages them to open up and feel calmer, knowing they share their experience with the horse. 

How do horses help with PTSD?

Horses help with PTSD through their naturally wary personalities. Safety and trust are paramount to both horses and those with PTSD. Gaining a horse’s trust is necessary to build a connection and improve mentally. Therefore, both parties become more confident in trusting others and themselves.

The wide-ranging symptoms of PTSD include: 

  • Depression.
  • Recurring nightmares or flashbacks.
  • Anxiety surrounding trying new things.

Equine therapies allow patients to gain greater control of their emotions through horse care and communication. Regulating feelings and improving communication skills are crucial to succeeding with work and relationships. This is an area that many with PTSD struggle with, and EAT practices can help.

Does horse riding improve mental health?

Horse riding as a hobby and a therapy can significantly improve mental health. Aside from the talking therapies and horse care learning that takes up part of EAT, riding is a significant component. Cardiovascular exercise in the peace of the outdoors is excellent for relaxing and centering oneself.

The social aspect of riding also contributes to improved mental health. Whether in a therapy session or with friends, talking through problems, or simply spending time together, horse riding is hugely beneficial.

The improved self-esteem also boosts riders’ mental health they gain from being in the great outdoors. Communicating with the horse and other riders helps EAT patients feel more confident in their abilities and more trusting of others.

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