Equine Therapy

Equine therapy is composed of a variety of different therapeutic techniques involving the use of horses and a guiding professional. The basic idea stems from the theory that humans feel calmed in the presence of domesticated animals, especially ones we have domesticated for centuries. In fact, the ancient Greeks first documented the idea that horseback riding could be therapeutic, with Hippocrates, one of the world’s first figures in medicine, wrote about the value of riding. Since then, progress has been made to collect data on the therapeutic value that horses can provide, and the research shows that equine therapy can help people with a variety of mental health issues, from boosting morale to overcoming certain forms of anxiety.

What Does Teen Equine Therapy Look Like?

  • Equine therapy involves the use of a horse and a trained professional, or a team of trained professionals. Usually, horses are involved through a riding activity, but there are different forms of equine therapy.
  • Therapeutic horseback riding involves a therapeutic team including a professional riding instructor and at least one assistant, together with a trained and tame horse. The instructor is usually trained to work with patients who struggle with a mental illness.
  • Hippotherapy, although sometimes used to refer to equine therapy in general, often describes a form of treatment utilizing a trained horse as a way to elicit postural responses in a client for therapeutic purposes, in the treatment of different conditions.
  • Equine-assisted activities such as horse grooming and stable management can also be of therapeutic value, allowing a patient to bond with a horse, help care for them, and be calmed by the routine of caring for a living breathing being with the assistance and supervision of a professional. Sometimes, equine-assisted activities may include helping a horse prepare for a demonstration or working with horses behind the scenes at a parade.

When is Teen Equine Therapy Utilized?

Equine therapy is particularly effective in the treatment of anxiety, calming people on the autism spectrum, helping teens with learning disabilities, and other such conditions. Equine therapy can help a patient work towards addressing the issues that feed their anxiety by first having the patient go through a series of tasks and goals such as leading the horse, putting a halter on it, or learning to mount it. These tasks may seem unrelated to any anxiety at hand – unless a patient has a fear of animals or horses specifically – but the act of completing these tasks in the calming presence of a horse can help prepare a patient for cognitive therapy through an equine therapist.

Because horses are deeply in-tune with human body language and can easily pick up cues of distress and danger, they can bond with a horse through a therapist and better understand their own ‘skittish nature’ by way of how horses react to fearful situations, recognizing similar behavior in themselves and working towards ways to develop solutions for said behavior. 

Equine therapy alongside other animal-assisted forms of therapy have shown effective in helping patients on a supplementary level. This doesn’t mean that there is strong evidence to suggest that working with horses can cure someone’s disorder, but it can help them better understand therapy and respond better to other forms of treatment that eventually lead to a more complete understanding of the disease, and ways to combat it in everyday life.

How Can Equine Therapy Help My Teen?

Equine therapy has shown effectiveness in providing therapeutic relief to children and teens with learning disabilities, autism spectrum, forms of anxiety, ADHD or hyperactivity, and a series of disabilities and injury-related mental trauma. By working with not just other humans but with animals as well, teens in tremendous pain can feel calmed by the earnest and completely honest nature of a horse. Horses also allow patients to feel more accepted and less singled-out, as they do not differentiate between individuals on the basis of their mental faculties or physical abilities.

Because riding can be physically challenging, equine therapy has also shown effectiveness in helping children with cerebral palsy develop better posture control as a result of learning to ride a horse. The goal-oriented nature of equine therapy can help teens who struggle with attention deficit disorder work to overcome their disorder by regularly engaging in a daily routine around the care of horses, in coordination with a psychiatrist, ADHD medication and talk therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Equine Therapy

What if I’m scared of horses? – Equine therapy is meant to help teens make progress in the fight against their mental health issues, so feeling distress towards horses is going to make it much less effective. There are other forms of animal-assisted therapy, and therapy animals of all kinds are trained and recruited nowadays to work with kids for therapeutic reasons.

Are horses forced to do equine therapy? – All horses involved in equine therapy are selected and trained specifically to participate in a therapeutic setting and are extensively trained long before they enter into a therapy program. These horses are not forced to do anything, and the horses picked to work with teens and adults alike are often bred to be calm, gentle, and well-mannered. Many of the horses used in equine therapy are older, because the therapy often requires a slower pace than other horseback riding programs.

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