Therapy and Horseplay: Four Things You Need to Know about Equine Therapy
When it comes to equine therapy, I’ll be the first one to advocate for its use. I’ve been an avid rider all my life, and there were many times I walked away from the barn feeling more relaxed and rejuvenated, and emotionally healthier and stronger, than when I left my therapist’s office. Horses are simply good for the soul. But put the two practices together, therapy with horses, and it can be an almost magical combination for those who have issues with addiction or trauma. The Guardian recently released an article exploring the benefits some recovering addicts and trauma survivors can reap when engaging in certified equine therapy. Please note that equine therapy is not just playing with or riding horses, but a specific kind of psychotherapeutic practice that involves the use of horses, mostly from the ground. If you’ve never heard of equine therapy or you’re not sure if it’s right for you, read on for four reasons you should consider trying it as a supplemental form of short-term psychotherapy.
- Horses are hard-wired to tune into you. Horses are herd animals by nature, which means they’ve learned to survive by being hyper-aware of and caring for the other animals around them. The Guardian reports that they can sense a human heart beat from up to four feet away and are capable of mirroring their body language and even their heart beat to match yours. Just like in human-to-human interactions, when an animal you’re interacting with copies your actions it creates feelings of being heard and supported. Car salesmen sometimes use this technique to close sales, but when you encounter the same technique in a therapy horse it has the effect of making you feel validated and safe.
- Interacting with horses can boost your self-esteem. As animals that sometimes weigh in excess of 1,000 pounds, horses and their innate physical power can be intimidating. Interacting with a therapy horse under the guidance of a licensed equine psychotherapist can help you to build rapport with your horse and overcome the fear that they will harm you just because they can. Working with a horse means learning to trust. Building confidence in the therapy horse spills over into a greater confidence in yourself and your ability to manage risks while staying safe.
- Horses don’t judge. It can be difficult to communicate a dark element of our past like a trauma we’ve experienced or a person with substance use disorderion we feel shameful of to even the most open and accepting of listeners. One of the many benefits of building a relationship with a therapy horse is that they do not ask questions or judge you for what you have done or experienced. Highly attuned herd animals, horses meet you where you are in the moment, whether you’re feeling confidant and peaceful or weepy and bleak.
- There is no right way to heal. Whatever your reasons for seeking out therapy of any kind, methods that resonate deeply with you are more likely to be beneficial than methods you think you “should” respond to, like traditional talk therapy. If horses are not your thing to begin with, equine therapy may not be the right fit for you. But don’t limit yourself to only certain methods of healing; everyone is different and everyone should find the activities and techniques that help them the most. Equine therapy, usually used short term, can have dramatic positive results.
Whether you grew up going out to feed the horses every day like I did or you’ve never touched a horse before in your life, equine therapy is an excellent therapeutic option for anyone struggling to build or rebuild their coping and communication skills and self confidence in the wake of trauma. Even those who think they have it all would benefit from having a loving friend who will “listen” to their troubles without question or judgment. What better way to prepare yourself for life’s ups and downs than building a relationship with a living being that will be there for you through hay or high water?