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Are Horses Good Therapy?

The power of horses to heal the human mind and body has been well documented but just how can being around horses deliver such myriad health benefits?

Horse therapy

© Talitha / Adobe Stock


Horse therapy history

Horse therapy, also known as equine therapy or equine-assisted therapy, may seem like a relatively new healing concept, but the therapeutic power of being around horses was acknowledged as far back as 460 BC. Winston Churchill once famously remarked that 'there was something about the outside of a horse that was good for the inside of a man.' Indeed, therapeutic riding centres used for rehabilitation purposes began to emerge during the 1960s.


How equine therapy works

Equine-assisted therapy involves a patient interacting with a horse, under the observation of a specially trained therapist. The patient may get involved with activities such as grooming, feeding or haltering the horse, or they might not even touch the horse at all - they'll just be near it. Many patients have a wide range of mental health issues, and being around a horse is thought to help them address these issues and develop coping strategies.

Equine therapy works as horses are non-judgemental, so patients feel an instant connection. This makes it easier for patients to gain trust and confidence, and to express how they are really feeling.

Horses also mirror emotions in humans, so how a person interacts with a horse, even in a non-verbal way, will be reflected in the horse's behaviour. For example, an angry patient will find a horse retreats or behaves stubbornly. By working with the therapist and gaining clues from the horse, the patient can then learn more about their own behaviour, attitude and emotions.

Horse therapy can be used to treat a wide range of emotional and psychological problems or conditions including addiction, abuse, ADHD, anxiety, trauma, eating disorders, grief/loss, bipolar, Asperger's and autism.

It is not a one-off treatment, but a continued process that lets patients develop skills over time, such as independence, problem-solving, self-control, accountability and empathy. Studies have shown that participants in equine therapy improve their communication skills and can identify and cope with difficult feelings. They are able to overcome fears, build trust and set boundaries.

While most equine therapy focuses on the emotional benefits of being around horses, some patients also benefit from actually riding horses. Since horses walk in a way that mirrors human movements, therapeutic riding can help those suffering from physical problems or disabilities. It can improve balance, muscle strength, co-ordination and flexibility in humans, especially children.

Crucially, whatever way patients interact with horses as part of their treatment, it can help them to relax, reduce tension and stress, and lower blood pressure. Plus, being around horses is enjoyable and gives people a sense of discipline and responsibility.

With so many mind and body benefits to be gained from equine therapy, this treatment should be given more widespread consideration.


Celebrity advocates

The power of horses to soothe the soul has long been touted by famous people. Actor Patrick Swayze was surrounded by horses all his life, declaring them his friends. During her 90-day rehab stint to relieve stress, actress Selena Gomez claimed that horse therapy was a vital part of her treatment. Actress Daryl Hannah has also credited horses for teaching her to love, be generous and show compassion - she has spoken passionately about the role of horse as a teacher in equine therapy programmes.

With such an important role to play in promoting human health, it's essential that horses themselves are well looked after. If you have horses of your own, our high-quality range of stable matting will ensure they are healthy, comfortable and cared for.

For further information, please give us a call.

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