The Benefits of Equine Therapy

When it comes to your recovery, you have a voice. You can participate in a variety of fun, interesting and, most importantly, effective therapy options. By combining traditional therapy with new, proven practices like equine therapy, recovery can be active and interactive. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as, “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.”1 Like other chronic diseases, addiction can be treated. How you treat it is up to you and your recovery team. Equine therapy can address the “manifestations,” or consequences, of addiction. It can benefit your mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health.

What Is Equine Therapy?

woman-riding-horse-600wEquine therapy, also call equine-assisted therapy or EAT, adds equine activities or being around horses to any therapeutic experience, so it can be used with therapy you’re already participating in or have already heard of. Equine therapy can be part of or partnered with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, family therapy and more, and it can be used to treat both physical and mental health concerns.

Why Horses?

Equine therapy differs from other animal-based therapies. Horses are bigger and stronger than a dog or cat, giving you opportunities to tap into and develop your own inner strength. Harnessing the Power of Equine Assisted Counseling explains, “The size and power of the horse are naturally intimidating (like addictions) to many people. Accomplishing a task involving the horse, in spite of those fears, creates confidence and provides for wonderful metaphors when dealing with other intimidating and challenging situations in life.”2 Equine therapy provides opportunities for overcoming fears and developing confidence. It helps you draw parallels between real life experiences and mental health challenges.

Horses and Emotional Health

Horses don’t just differ from other therapy animals in terms of size. They are gentle herd animals and offer unique insights into relationships, emotions and body language. The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association explains, “Horses are a lot like us socially … when we work on our relationships with them, we in turn are learning how to improve our relationships with others … because they can read and respond to the nonverbal messages we are always sending, they begin to act in ways that feel familiar to other relationships or dynamics in our lives. They become our spouse, partner, colleague, children, dreams, fears, addictions, etc. … This gives us a chance to work through those relationships and issues in a safe and nonjudgmental environment.”Equine therapy offers a hands-on, active therapeutic experience. You can safely practice the social, emotional and recovery skills you will need for a healthy, drug-free future.

Does Equine Therapy Work?

Equine therapy is flexible and customizable. It can be used to treat mental, physical and emotional health issues. These issues may include any of the following:

  • Behavioral issues
  • Substance abuse
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Relationship or interpersonal problems
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Grief

You know your addiction is complicated. Treatment options that address more than one issue at a time help you recover better, faster. You can’t rush recovery, but you can make sure you are choosing comprehensive care that allows for real healing. Because equine therapy is so adaptable, it can treat multiple concerns at once. This may explain why many patients find success and healing through equine therapy. Society & Animals shares a study in which “participants completed psychological measures prior to treatment, immediately following [equine-assisted] treatment, and 6 months after treatment.” This study reported “reductions in psychological distress and enhancements in psychological well being were significant immediately following treatment and were stable at 6-month follow-up.”4 Equine therapy has immediate and long-term benefits. You can find help now and strength later by choosing a treatment program that lets you work with and around horses.

Making Equine Therapy Work for You

Equine therapy has benefits, but how can those benefits work for you? Equine therapy can help you access and participate in therapy. Horse Channel explains, “PTSD can cause a wide range of symptoms that can have a profound impact on veterans and others afflicted by it …The symptoms don’t get better over time, and in fact may worsen. The most common treatments for PTSD are talk therapy and medication. However, many patients with PTSD are resistant to traditional therapy and those who do begin treatment don’t always stick with it. If equine-assisted therapy can be utilized effectively, it could be a revolutionary option for some veterans.”5

Addiction, PTSD and other mental health issues do not simply “go away” in time. Symptoms accumulate. You may have discovered that it got harder and harder to ask for help. You found yourself distanced from loved ones and unsure if treatment would work. But you aren’t alone. Lots of people are worried or ambivalent about recovery when they first begin. Equine therapy can provide the opening you need so that healing can begin.

Is Equine Therapy Right for Me?

By working with and around horses, you can learn or relearn to trust yourself and others. You learn how to pay attention to your emotions and respond to those of the animal, helping you learn more about yourself through the healing process and how to build relationships with others. If you consider an integrated treatment program that includes equine therapy, consider these benefits that come with it.

Finding the Right Road to Recovery

You have choices when it comes to recovery. Find the research-based treatment options that will work for you, combining proven therapies with cutting-edge and complementary services. You can include equine therapy as part of your comprehensive mental health and addiction treatment plan. The Landing at Lakeside Behavioral Health has recently partnered with an equine-assisted therapy organization, allowing us to offer an even more comprehensive, customizable treatment experience. We provide engaging, effective options for addiction treatment. We work with you and your family to create the best plan for your unique recovery journey. If you have questions, call The Landing at 901-500-8517. We are here to answer your questions, no matter how big or small. Talk with us today about moving forward in recovery, health and life.

1 American Society of Addiction Medicine. “Definition of Addiction.” April 19, 2017.

2 Trotter, Kay. Harnessing the Power of Equine Assisted Counseling. April 27, 2012.

3 Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association. “How It Works.” 2010. Accessed September 18, 2017.

4 Klontz, Bradley; Bivens, Alex; Leinart, Deb; Klontz, Ted. “The Effectiveness of Equine-Assisted Experiential Therapy.” Society & Animals. 2007. Accessed September 18, 2017.

5 Potter, Leslie. “Equine Therapy for PTSD Studied at Columbia University.” Horse Channel. August 22, 2017.

Related resource:

Recovery Unscripted #36: Healing Through Horses with Dale Phillips and Duke Vinson

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