Although the practice of using horses for therapeutic purposes has been around for centuries (as early as 460 BC), it has evolved rapidly in recent years throughout Europe, the United States and Canada. Hundreds of Equine Assisted Riding and Therapy Centers in the US are providing veterans, individuals, families, teams and businesses to opportunities for personal and professional growth and development.
The possibilities that present themselves with the natural connection that occurs between horses and humans are being developed and utilized in experiential forms including Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP), Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT), Equine Assisted Learning (EAL), and Therapeutic Riding (TR). These types of learning and therapy have shown to be effective in treating patients, including combat veterans with PTSD, depression, anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorders, dissociative disorders and other chronic mental illnesses (study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association). Other studies have suggested similar findings and present the positive impacts of Equine Assisted therapies and activities on veterans with PTSD or TBI, but a large portion of the evidence is anecdotal.
Therapeutic Riding (TR)
Therapeutic Riding is a treatment that concentrates its efforts on physical issues and uses the multidimensional movement of the horse. While riding a horse, a person’s body is automatically placed into a natural motion that mimics the movement of the human pelvis while walking. This treatment is growing and gaining acceptance with physical, occupational and speech therapists whose clients experience various forms of movement dysfunction. TR improves balance, posture, mobility and function in people with a variety of diagnoses, such as PTSD, TBI, Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Developmental Delay, Stroke, Autism and Learning or Language Disabilities. In addition to the physical benefits, it has proved to be invaluable to the psychological, cognitive, and behavioral functions of those to which it is applied.
Although there is crossover in all areas of experiential therapy, EAP and EAT typically couple horses with people that have psychological problems including anxiety, mood, panic, and psychotic disorders; behavioral difficulties; mental illness; and those who are experiencing major changes I their lives. EAP and EAT also work on the fundamental relationships and bonds we have within our personal, familial, and professional human “herds.” Both therapies provide the opportunity for participants to learn about themselves and others, by performing experiential activities with horses, and them processing and discussing their feelings, behaviors, and the patterns that they find.
Equine Assisted Learning (EAL)
The purpose of EAL is to empower children, adults, and veterans with the tools and life skills necessary to lead healthy, responsible, productive lives through the healing and teaching powers of the horse.
- To treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- To reduce stress, anxiety and the risk of suicide
- To increase communication, strength and success within families
- To enhance crime and substance abuse prevention efforts
- To practice the norms of collaboration, participation, inclusion, commitment, respect, reflection, and empathy
- To support and improve academic success
- To educate and guide in establishing and preserving healthy boundaries
- To prevent and address anger, aggressive behavior and bullying
- To provide professional, familial, and personal development tools that nurture pride and self-respect
The Power Behind It
The power of the Equine Assisted model is the experiential element combined with the unique medium of the horse. In a clinical setting, it is often difficult to discover the problem at its deepest core. This model provides an activity where the participant is actively engaged and in the midst of a challenge. The behaviors exhibited are clear, concise examples of how the participant typically acts and reacts, and provide an avenue for change an progress. One can easily relate what happens inside the arena with what is happening with them in the real world.