Equine Therapy Defined
According to PATH International, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, there are many different types of “equine-assisted activities.” In its broadest sense, any interaction between a person and a horse is an equine-assisted activity.
Equine-Assisted Therapy has a more specific goal. It is a treatment which uses horses to reach rehabilitative goals that are bounded by a medical professional’s scope of practice. Equine-Assisted Therapy is not an activity run by local horse clubs, church groups, or trainers. Instead, it is overseen by a medical professional, usually a licensed psychotherapist or physical therapist. Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy, which is used by addiction treatment facilities, veterans’ groups, and trauma centers, is always overseen by a licensed mental health professional. These types of therapies rarely involve riding the horse.
Benefits of Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy
Especially for those who are unfamiliar with horses, working with horses can be an intimidating experience. Addicts, the population I work with, often exclaim, “They’re so big!” Indeed, as all horse-people know, trying to get a thousand-pound animal to do what you want is no easy task. If you are unaccustomed to being honest and communicating clearly, the task becomes more difficult.
Horses can be an emotional mirror for humans. They respond to the feeling state we show. They are herd and prey animals, which means that they have a strong emotional sense and use this sense as a survival tool; they feed off of and respond to other horses in the herd. If one horse in a herd is scared, the others will become frightened. They respond similarly to humans. If a person approaches a horse with anger, the horse will respond by shying away or becoming stubborn. Horses never hide their emotions.
Because of these qualities, horses can be used to help people heal from a variety of psychological issues.