Horses in therapy sessions? How exactly does that work? Who needs it? My good friend, Cherylynne, helps unpack the healing benefits of equine therapy. Cherylynne Davis is a freelance writer based in Houston. She volunteered at an equine therapy center as an early teen.
A horse’s sensitivity to our emotions makes them natural empathy partners. They can validate what we struggle with and help us process it in a safe environment. Interacting with these beautiful, powerful creatures can give us a sense of accomplishment and great joy.
Equine Therapy for people with physical disabilities has been around for a long time. When I was in Jr. High I would volunteer several times a week for a program near my home. As volunteers we would groom and saddle the ponies and then, with the kids as riders, we would walk the horses around the ring. Timothy, a young boy who was unable to sit up on his own, was my favorite. He wore a harness so that I could hold him upright with one hand. The joy on his face was indescribable, and it made me feel so happy – for both of us.
Equine Therapy isn’t just for those with physical disabilities anymore. People struggling with mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, aggression, eating disorders and substance abuse are now being helped through working with horses.
Therapists think that it’s a combination of the horse’s intimidating size and their loving, trusting natures that helps people to face their fears, learn new ways of dealing with, and often overcoming, their emotional issues.
Most of the therapy sessions don’t even involve riding. Equine therapy is all about changing how we relate to life and other people by learning how to relate to the horse. It can be as simple as grooming, sitting in a field quietly with your horse partner, or trying to successfully navigate an obstacle course together.
Centers that use Equine Therapy are finding incredible benefits:
- Improved self-esteem and overall self-confidence in those suffering from depression, anxiety, panic disorders, phobias and substance addiction.
- Children who struggle with ADHD are able to concentrate and complete tasks without becoming distracted.
- Handlers are developing a greater respect for living beings, and the ability to empathize with others.
- People who have problems engaging in healthy relationships discover the deep satisfaction of bonding with a living creature. Since horses share human characteristics, this new ability to bond can transfer over to the rest of their lives.
- Studies have shown that substance abusers can overcome feelings of guilt, resentment and fear of the future.
- Because horses are prey animals, they are hyper-vigilant when in unfamiliar conditions. People suffering from PTSD can easily relate to their sense of hyper-awareness.
- If someone you love is struggling with anxiety or some other mental disorder, Equine Therapy might be a potential avenue for healing.
“Horses lend us the wings we lack”.
– author unknown
I recently took these photos of Sebastian and Nala. Both horses are used for equine therapy, which is how my conversation about equine therapy with Cherylynne started.