Equine Assisted Therapy: A Versatile Treatment Option
We continue to discover the many ways that horses can help humans, and their roles in our lives constantly evolve, in turn. You may have heard of equine assisted therapy, a newer treatment option that’s quickly gaining in popularity because of its effectiveness. With more programs emerging all over the country, chances are there’s even a therapy program located near you.
What Is Equine Assisted Therapy?
Equine assisted therapy (EAT) is a treatment program that uses horses to help bring about change in humans. It’s not quite the same as therapeutic riding – instead, EAT participants may work with horses on the ground instead of ever actually mounting up. A medical professional – usually a psychotherapist – works with a patient to determine rehabilitative goals, and then the patient works with horses in a supervised setting in order to meet those goals.
This therapy has become popular because of its versatility and effectiveness. It is often used to address conditions including:
- ADD and ADHD
- Eating disorders
- And more
The Benefits of Equine Assisted Therapy
Because horses are so sensitive, they quickly identify how a person is feeling, and they reflect it in their actions. For instance, a horse won’t willingly approach someone whose body language indicates that they’re angry or frustrated. This sensitivity can help patients to develop self-awareness of their own feelings, body language, and actions.
During an EAT session, the patient will often be asked to perform a task. This can be something as simple as walking up to a horse in a paddock, putting a halter on the horse, and bringing the horse back through the paddock gate. For an equestrian, the challenge would be easy, but for someone who’s never worked with horses before, it’s a bit more difficult. This seemingly simple task actually involves a number of challenges:
- Working up the courage to approach a 1,000-pound animal
- Discovering how to approach the horse in a way so that the horse doesn’t simply walk away
- Figuring out how to put the halter on the horse’s head
- Learning how to lead and steer the horse back to the gate
A facilitator who is an experienced horseperson will be present, but usually won’t intervene or assist the patient unless there’s a safety issue. The patient does their own learning with the help of the horse. They can make discoveries about themselves, build their self-confidence, develop a sense of accomplishment, improve their self-control, and more.
How to Find a Local Equine Assisted Therapy Program
If you, or someone you know, could benefit from equine assisted therapy, then it’s likely that you can find a program near you. You can use this website to find a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH) Member Center near you. With over 800 centers and more than 5,000 certified instructors and equine specialists, this site is a great resource as you begin to look for the right program for your needs.
Horses have changed our lives in many different ways, from providing us with companionship to carrying us into the show ring. Now, they’re serving as therapists, too, and help countless people to better cope with the challenges that they’re facing.