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How Horses are Used for Therapy

Animals have been used in human therapy for thousands of years and their ability to read the emotions of humans has been transformative for people all over the world. While there have been so many animals used in therapy over the years, horses are particularly well-known for their ability to help encourage growth and change.

Where Did the Term ‘Equine Therapy’ Come from?

Equine therapy, otherwise referred to as hippotherapy, comes from the Greek word ‘hippos’ which means horse. The purpose of equine therapy is to promote the emotional growth, learning and healing of an individual.

Horse therapy is commonly used alongside a therapist to ensure the most significant benefit to each individual. When it comes to horse therapy, there is no need to have any horse riding experience. In fact, in most cases there is no need to ride the horse at all.

What is the Goal of Equine Therapy

The goal of equine therapy is to guide an individual through a season of healing, encouraging them to reflect on their experiences and discover behaviours and thinking patterns that help them.

After an initial consultation with the individual, the therapist will work through a variety of exercises customised to that person and the issues they are struggling with.

Why Are Horses Used in Therapy?

A question that gets asked a lot is: why are horses used in therapy? There are so many animals out there used in therapy sessions, so why is it that horses are most commonly chosen?

Horses are Large Animals

One of the reasons horses are used in therapy is because they are large and powerful animals. They can be intimidating. And for some people, this poses a challenge right from the start as before they even begin their first therapy session, they have to overcome a fear of horses and their size. This is not wholly uncommon and is particularly useful for people in need of boosting self confidence and self-esteem as overcoming things gives us a sense of empowerment.

Horses are Herd Animals

Horses are herd animals, and this means they naturally desire the comfort and company of others. This makes them animals that are very social and animals that want to create bonds. Understandably, this willingness to bond and develop relationships with others is ideal for therapy situations as the horse will want to get to know the individual.

Horses Mirror Human Behaviour

Horses have a striking ability to mirror the behaviour of people, including their thoughts and even their feelings. How do they do this? Well, horses are prey animals, so they have an in-built natural ability to read body language and respond instantly. In the wild, this would be considered a survival tactic. But in therapy it can help people learn about their own behaviours, feelings, and thought patterns.

Horses Have Individual Personalities

One of the many brilliant things about horse therapy is how each horse has an individual personality. Some horses take longer to trust, other horses are caring, or defiant at times, or playful…does this sound similar?

Therapists will often match the characteristics of a horse with the person they are supporting. These individual personalities make horses so wonderful for use in therapy as they provide an individual such as vast opportunity for growth.

What Can Equine Therapy Help with?

Although research into equine therapy and its effectiveness is still in its early stages, it can help with a number of issues, including:

  • Addiction
  • Autism
  • Trauma
  • Anger
  • Behavioural problems
  • Low self-confidence
  • Anxiety

How Do You Know Equine Therapy is Right for You?

If you’ve never experienced the benefits of equine therapy for yourselves, how do you know its right for you? Well, first of all, it is important to know there is no guarantee that equine therapy will ‘cure’ your problems, but it does offer you a new way to work through your feelings and experiences. The best way to get the most from equine therapy is to try a variety of different horse therapy methods until you find the one that works best for you.

If you think that equine therapy is the right choice for you, the best course of action is to seek out a professional, qualified equine therapist. Then you can see for yourself just how beneficial horse therapy can be and how it can help you take control of your life.

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