By: Starr Denison, MS, LAC at Embark Recovery

For thousands of years’ humans have cultivated and nurtured relationships with equines. From early civilization, equines were domesticated to help humans with a variety of tasks from agriculture to trade to migration to warfare. No longer needed for laborious tasks, equines have been growing in popularity for use in a mental health and learning setting showing the strength of the human-horse bond as being anything other than irrelevant. 

While many people continue to believe in the mysticism of the horse reminiscent of ancient times, there is a growing trend toward acknowledging the presence of the horse to be of benefit within the therapeutic setting, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

The human-horse relationship is perhaps the most valuable consideration when introducing equines into the therapeutic environment. The opportunity to form bonds and build rapport within the patient-horse-therapist triad is compelling evidence for including equines in this experiential therapeutic strategy. Equines, as social animals, seek interaction, a relatable concept to people.

Social interaction between patients and equines may greatly enhance the therapeutic process from clinical assessment to goal achievement. Research suggests horses promote self-esteem and a sense of personal responsibility, two valuable schemas to substantiate treatment. Other research showed equines appear to decrease the initial reservations about going into treatment which enhances client motivation.

Equines have several physical and cognitive characteristics to enhance the therapeutic experience. Mammalian characteristics such as birthing live young and caring for them are similar to humans, creating relatable constructs. Variations in size can be of interest to clients, allowing for quick connections to form. Instinctual prey behaviors, with heightened senses and awareness, might create metaphorically useful comparisons for people and provide therapists with information otherwise potentially undiscovered through traditional therapeutic modalities. The equine’s ability to learn and maintain habitual behavior is a beneficial characteristic.

Historically, providing a unique and rich experiential therapeutic intervention with equines has shown to increase engagement in treatment, interpersonal effectiveness and bonds with family members and peers, as well as providing many opportunities for fun in therapy. Patients who have fun in treatment with equines learn and generalize skills without even knowing it, at least at first! 

At Embark Recovery, we use Equine Therapy to help gain these skills and insights into their challenges.  It is interwoven with their treatment plan and gives us more insight into issues that may have gone undiscovered otherwise.  If you or someone you know could benefit from Equine Therapy, please give us a call at 1-877-215-2224 for more information.