Equine Therapy, earlier known as hippotherapy, is a form of therapy that usually involves an equine, a horse expert, and a therapist. This form of therapy is mainly associated with helping individuals learn more about themselves in-depth and developing new, innovative ways of thinking.
The equine theory in present times is increasingly becoming popular in the UK and the United States. One major common misconception associated with equine therapy is that it requires every participant to have a horse riding experience, which is not true.
1. Origin of Equine Therapy
The concept of using horses in therapy dates way back to ancient times when horses were originally used for therapeutic ridings.
In ancient Greece, Hippocrates wrote about ‘hippotherapy’ or ‘horse therapy,’ which later became a popular technique followed in many countries like Austria, Switzerland, and Germany in the 1950s.
Later on, therapeutic riding was also introduced in other countries like the U.S and Canada, which led to the formation of the Community Association of Riding of the Disabled (CARD)
Though many animals like dogs, dolphins, and cats are used in different therapy forms, horses remain a popular choice because of their unique quality and traits.
Equine therapy was also used along with physiotherapy to help people suffering from different forms of physical disabilities. The movements of the horse were induced to see neuromuscular changes within an individual.
2. Why Are Horses Used In Therapy?
Though there are many animals commonly used in therapy, horses have many unique qualities and traits that make them one of the best and most popular choices for therapy. Some of the reasons why horses are the best for therapies are :
2.1. Unbiased And Non-Judgmental
A crucial part of the therapy is openness; horses tend to offer a comfortable place to the individual since they are non-judgmental and do not carry any bias. This quality is essential in boosting a person’s confidence level and self-esteem.
2.2. Feedback And Mirroring
Horses are very keen observers and tend to reflect the individual’s behaviour and emotions, which in many ways helps the individual. Further, the feedback provided by the horses is then taken and analyzed by specialists involved in equine therapy
2.3. Vulnerability Management
Individuals are put in a difficult spot and tend to shy away when asked to open up about their issues, and past life experiences. Still, in this form of therapy, the horses are used as a real-life metaphor to align with the individual’s life experiences.
4. 8 Ultimate Benefits of Equine Therapy
Equine-assisted therapy or horse therapy has a huge positive impact on our body and mind.
It benefits our mind and body in many ways; some of the benefits associated with equine therapy include:
4.1. Anxiety And Stress Relief
In today’s world, there is hardly anyone free from stress and anxiety. Especially with changing times and situations, it only makes things worse for everyone. Equine therapy has a very relaxing effect on people’s minds.
In equine therapy, most of the activities include nurturing the horse and riding it. These activities require the individuals’ complete attention and keep their minds occupied, thus preventing them from thinking about various other things that can cause stress and anxiety.
Equine-assisted therapy or horse therapy is more or less physical therapy. Internal problems and worries of the people are driven out and instilled in a new, positive mindset.
Equine Therapy also puts people in a position where they have to concentrate on the present moment as anxiety is more about worrying about the future.
4.2. Boosts Confidence And Low Self-Esteem
Low confidence and self-esteem can drag down any individual and affect all other areas of life. Working with animals like canines and horses has proven to increase humans’ well-being as they do not make fun of, criticize, or make any comments that could hurt anyone’s feelings.
Interacting with horses can positively impact your life and can help anyone come out of their shell. Especially in the case of introverts, or people suffering from any kind of mental or physical disabilities who have difficulties talking to other people, equine therapy boosts their esteem and confidence with various tasks.
During equine therapy, individuals tend to develop a special bond with the horse, developing a sense of trust.
4.3. Good Physical Health
Apart from equine therapy’s numerous mental health benefits, it also benefits our physical health in many ways.
It is a known fact that both our mind and body are interconnected, and if one does not function well, it eventually affects the other. A person with poor physical health can also have disturbed mental health, which may, in turn, have a bad effect on the whole body’s functioning and well-being
Horse riding in this form of therapy involves using the muscles in many ways we don’t normally use and therefore gives us a chance to toughen our muscles. Horse riding also increases the balance, strength, and dexterity of the individual and joint mobility. It also enhances spine strength, thus ensuring the body’s overall physical fitness.
4.4. Overcome Trauma
Traumas can be a difficult thing to forget, and there are chances that they could scar us for life, but equine therapy greatly helps to overcome trauma
The kind and soft nature of the horses are used to overcome trauma in equine therapy. It helps them build their trust and instil confidence in them.
Horses do not make fun of, criticize, pass comments or have a pretentious nature. They are generally non-judgmental and offer comfort to people who have experienced traumatic experiences by being great listeners.
Many equine therapy cases are beneficial to post-war veterans, people who have gone through traumatic experiences.
For people suffering from autism, animal therapy can be helpful in many ways.
Compared to regular therapy, equine therapy focuses more on non-verbal cues rather than verbal communication. This type of therapy plays a crucial role in understanding behaviour and helping people with autism open up and develop a bond of a special kind with the horses.
Horse riding in equine therapy also helps in physical therapy by enhancing motor skills.
Drug and alcohol addiction continues to be a major rising problem all around the world.
Compared to the traditional form of therapy, equine-assisted therapy offers a unique approach to treating addiction and the various other problems resulting from the addiction. It helps individuals to build trust while being vulnerable and makes them feel safe.
Equine therapy also plays a crucial part in helping them deal with their emotions and focus on the things in the present moment rather than over-analyzing them or overthinking them.
Individuals who undergo equine therapy are usually monitored and accompanied by a professional in the process, as in most instances, they would not be familiar with the horse.
But apart from that, horse riding is more of a solo activity where individuals spend more time with the horse and their thoughts, which leads them to be self-sufficient by themselves.
Equine-assisted therapy also serves as a great opportunity for people with disabilities to open up and build their social skills.
4.8. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a form of mental health disorder where individuals experience disturbing nightmares and memories of a traumatic event.
As per the data from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA), an estimated 7.7 million, mainly teens and adults, struggle with Post-traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD is commonly found among children, teens, and adults the experience may vary from one person to another. People who mostly suffer from PTSD include people who have experienced any traumatic sexual assault, war veterans, or individuals who have undergone any other traumatic, violent or harassing experience.
This form of therapy helps people with such experiences since most of them subject themselves to isolation and tend to break all bonds with people. But equine-assisted therapy makes sure they get emotional support from the horse and take it to the next level of their lives.
Apart from these major benefits, some of the other benefits offered by equine therapy are awareness, impulse control, adaptability, tolerance of distress, improved social relationships, independence, and much more.
On the other care, taking care of horses also requires dedication since they must constantly be fed, groomed, and taken care of. Doing this routine continuously establishes a nurturing and fostering sense among the individuals.
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5. Limitations And Dangers Posed By Equine Therapy
Though there are many takers for this form of therapy, equine-assisted therapy has its own set of limitations and dangers.
In most cases, it is the size and weight of the horses. Even though the horses are trained as therapy animals, they can be very intimidating to some people. Moreover, some people also experience allergic reactions to horses and their habitat.
Health experts have recommended people with Down Syndrome, scoliosis consult with an expert before getting into this type of therapy to know if it is the best option.
6. In The End
The many benefits associated with equine therapy make it an increasingly common form of therapy in most places worldwide. Equine therapy, along with a licensed mental health expert’s assistance, is an amazing choice for people suffering from mental health problems.
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7. Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. What Is an Example of Equine Therapy?
There are many therapeutic activities that involve horses. They may include riding or walking and caring for them. For example, people can feed the horses, lead them around or groom them. Some people benefit from the mere presence and visit of animals
Q2. Who Created Equine Assisted Therapy?
Lis Hartel created equine-assisted therapy.
Q3. What Is Another Name for Equine Therapy?
Hippotherapy comes from the ancient Greek word gippos, meaning horse, and therapy, therapy. This is defined as assisted therapy.