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Equine Therapy: How Horses Can Help

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Pet therapy is a relatively new field but one that shows great promise. Private pets are trained to become a beacon of health and hope to individuals with a variety of conditions. All types of animals are eligible as long as they have a gentle demeanor and don’t mind the contact. One of the biggest animals being utilized is the horse. Here are a few facts about equine therapy.

What Is Equine Therapy?

While many pets are used as companion animals and sounding boards for patients, horses are not necessarily pets in the normal sense. They won’t sleep in your bed or get the morning paper, but they have a unique set of skills that are useful in therapy situations.

Specifically, horses are often used to teach social skills, emotional growth and personal growth. A trained therapist may use the services of an equine trainer to conduct therapy sessions with the animal. In some cases, the therapist is also a trained equestrian.

The Purpose of Equine Therapy

Horses are instrumental in therapy that involves troubled youth. Because they are big animals, a mutual trust relationship must be established in order for anything to happen. It is the understanding of the horse itself that often brings about changes in the behavior patterns of the person in therapy.

Just like with other forms of pet therapy, the use of the animal is a part of a structured therapy program that involves other techniques as prescribed by the therapist. When the patient is ready for the next phase, the animal will be introduced. The patient and the animal will always be accompanied by a trained equine professional and the therapist.

This type of therapy includes instruction in care for the horse. It is through understanding grooming, feeding, cleaning and training of the horse that a person makes connections that transfer to other areas of their lives – including those that represent the reason for the therapy in the first place.

Who Is Helped by Equine Therapy?

We have mentioned troubled teens. This type of animal therapy also works for patients with dissociative disorders, conduct issues, anxiety, dementia, autism, ADD (attention deficit disorder) and others.

The process used in therapy, as we mentioned, is not about horsemanship but about getting to know and care for the animal itself. Through these actions, patients are taught a variety of positive benefits:

  • Self-esteem
  • Self-control
  • Trust
  • Interpersonal boundaries
  • Social skills
  • Communication skills
  • Confidence
  • Respect for others

The specific skills learned are likely a direct result of what is needed to care for horses: responsibility, communication, respect and a healthy work ethic. The animal participates in the therapy not by performing a certain task, but by allowing the patient to perform tasks that elicit a specific response from the animal. The change of scenery of a horse stable can also be helpful to patients.

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