There is an intimate connection between horses and people that can bring profound benefits to personal healing, Expert Patient Counselor Jennifer Couture says. Equine therapy can help restore self-esteem and can be an integral part of psychotherapy. Horse therapy enhances emotional awareness, social skills, impulse control, self-awareness, problem-solving skills, and confidence.
What is horse therapy?
Equine Therapy can involve a range of activities and treatments that enhance physical and mental health. Some people may be intimidated being around such a large majestic creature, but they are well known as gentle giants. Equine Therapy is growing in popularity due to the evidence of its effectiveness. The broad range of healing benefits for both the mental and physical well-being of Equine Therapy has the potential to positively change your life.
In some equine therapy sessions, a therapist will guide their clients as they groom, feed, and lead their horses. If you have never interacted with horses before, the process is more than a little intimidating. After all, a horse is a lot more powerful than a kitten or even a dog.
Traumatic experiences, particularly when the cause of the trauma is another person, can deeply impact a victim’s ability to feel safe and comfortable in the presence of others. When you form emotional relationships with family, friends, or romantic partners, you allow yourself to be open with them. In a healthy relationship, you can feel confident that your loved ones will not use this vulnerability against you. When this confidence is shaken, though, the relationship can suffer; and if your trust was betrayed in a way that hurt you deeply, it often affects your ability to maintain relationships with others.
Difficulty trusting others is a common problem in those who have experienced trauma or emotional distress at the hands of someone close to them. In such cases, therapies that focus on helping you learn how to build trusting relationships again, like equine therapy, are necessary for you to overcome your experiences and make progress towards a healthy and productive life. Equine Facilitated psychotherapy is beneficial for all ages, and for those experiencing challenges of trauma, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more.
Equine Therapy can offer a therapeutic environment that is less intimidating and more inviting than traditional talk therapy in the office. Children often find it difficult to talk freely and open up about painful, emotional experiences. Equine-assisted psychotherapy helps people of all ages to work on such issues as building confidence, empathy, impulse control, social skills, trust in others, assertiveness, emotional awareness, and building self-confidence.
Relationships can also suffer due to mental health disorders like addiction, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety. Though you may not be acting in ways your healthy and rational self would, you can still hurt those close to you if you prioritize a substance or compulsion over your health and your relationships. In many cases, it hurts your loved ones to see you hurting yourself. When you decide to seek treatment for mental health concerns, the process of taking responsibility for yourself and your actions is important in rebuilding damaged relationships. Equine therapy can provide a structured way for you to learn how to nurture a relationship and how to be a loving and giving friend, family member, or partner.
As much as people try to be unbiased and non-judgemental, it’s hard for them to fight their innate tendencies. Horses provide a safe space for people of all ages to be there for them in comfort. They react to one’s behavior and emotions without being biased or judgmental of one’s emotional experiences.
Also known as “hippotherapy,” after the Greek word for “horse,” not because it involves hippos, horse therapy isn’t just simple caretaking. The therapist uses the characteristic movements of the horse to awaken responses in the human brain that open up the individual to new experiences.
What kind of a difference can that make?
Horse therapy is a method for experiencing change in a hands-on way.
“Identifying and coping with emotions, horses have a unique ability to sense human emotions and react accordingly”, say Jennifer Couture. If you are angry, your horse will become obstinate. If you are anxious, your horse will become skittish. If you are calm and open, your horse will respond to you in kind ways. You can’t hide your true emotional state from a horse. Horses are well aware of one’s energy when in their presence. The human nervous system automatically syncs up with that of the horse you are around. Horses have been known to sense everything that is going on within your body, so just standing in a horse’s presence has been known to calm the entirety of one’s body.
- Developing interpersonal skills. People who have not yet developed the skills they need to relate to people can often learn how to relate to a horse. Horses won’t let you put a halter on them unless they feel they are being treated with respect. Horses won’t let you lead them around until you have become a trusted member of the “herd.” The ability to relate to horses carries over to the ability to relate to people.
- Setting boundaries. Horses let you know when you are getting too close. They will let you know when you are trying to ride too fast, or when you are trying to take them somewhere they do not want to go. Horses won’t let you bully them. They are not moved by passive aggression, either.
- Dealing with rejection. Horses don’t trust people right away. It takes some time to get to know them. But once they get to know and trust you, they accept you with all your imperfections. Horses help people develop the ability to deal with rejection appropriately.
- Soothing. Just hanging out with a horse can make you feel better. If you spend an hour with a horse, you may feel like you have felt better in that moment than you ever have before.