Equestrian therapy is also known as equine-assisted or horse therapy. This method involves experiential mental health treatment where the patient is treated by interacting with horses. Equine therapy can be used to treat a wide range of mental health issues, relieve symptoms of physiological and emotional disorders and can work on people of all ages. People who are suffering from mental or physical health disorders work with an equine psychotherapist who has specialized in equine therapy and training horses.

Equestrian Therapy: Origins

Ancient Greeks have mentioned the therapeutic benefits of horse riding in texts. This shows that equestrian modes of therapy have been used for thousands of years. The practice of using equestrian principles was known as hippo-therapy – derived from hippo, meaning horses.

Equestrian principles and practice started being used in modern psychotherapeutic practices during 1900s. Therapeutic riding practices were used to treat mental health disorders and polio. Horse-riding was then made accessible to people with disabilities as part of equine-assisted psychotherapy. Companies may follow different practices according to principles of hippo-therapy, equine-assisted riding and therapeutic riding. Therapeutic riding is directed for individuals suffering from cerebral palsy or Down syndrome. Patients with these disorders need more physiological support than other to avoid back problems and maintain health. Hippo-therapy is designed for physiotherapy and occupational and speech therapies.

How does Equestrian Therapy Help?

Studies have shown mental and physical health benefits of caring and looking after horses. People who interact with horses report reduced stress, blood pressure, anxiety, tension and anger. Moreover, horses help you feel empowered, confident and happier. Companionship with a horse can have powerful therapeutic effects.

Working with horses requires brain and physical exercise, all of which are provided by riding a horse. Interacting with a horse entails that the patient adjust to its personality, moods and behavior. Looking after the horse improves muscle strength, coordination and equilibrium.

Horses can help patients perform better in social interactions. Developing a compassionate relationship with a horse helps people recover and practice social skills. The patient learns to be accountable and feels empowered. They could learn to bring sincerity and loyalty to their relationships and they learn to trust the horse during therapy. The patients can then use the same principles in social interactions and function better.

Horse-riding is also an excellent source for refining motor skills and coordination. Patients who suffer from cerebral palsy and autism disorders can learn to maintain balance and control. Interacting with horses doesn’t really feel like therapy because it is always a fulfilling experience. Therapy could be used to help patients recover from various disorders, including: trauma, grief, loss, anxiety, eating disorders, mood disorders, substance abuse, learning difficulties and depression.

Interacting with horses has helped participants improve cognitive skills, reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and relieve symptoms of depression. Individuals with dysfunctional relationships have benefited from interactions with horses. Horse therapy has also prevented individuals from engaging in self-destructive behaviors.  A study performed on 30 people showed reduced psychological distress among participants after interacting with horses.

Therapy requires a horse trainer and psychotherapist. Horses are chosen specifically to tolerate patients’ eccentricities. They are also groomed and trained to be gentle so that people can feel relaxed.

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