Equine Therapy

What is Equine Therapy?

Equine therapy, also known as equine-assisted therapy, is a type of therapy that involves working with horses to promote emotional, cognitive, and physical well-being. It is often used to help individuals with mental health conditions, behavioral issues, and developmental disabilities.

Equine can take many forms, but it usually involves working with horses in a structured and guided way. Some examples of equine therapy include riding, grooming, feeding, and caring for horses, as well as participating in activities that involve interaction with the horses, such as obstacle courses or team-building exercises.

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Equine therapy is thought to be effective because horses are social animals that can be highly attuned to human emotions and behaviors. Working with horses can help individuals develop important skills such as empathy, self-awareness, communication, and problem-solving. 

Havenwood Academy offers each student a weekly session of Equine therapy. It typically is outside weather permitting and help troubled teens strengthen their abilities to create healthy attachments.

How does Equine Therapy work?

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Equine therapy works by utilizing the unique qualities and characteristics of horses to promote emotional, cognitive, and physical well-being. Here are some ways in which equine therapy works:

  1. Horses are highly social animals: Equine are social animals that rely on strong relationships with their herd members. In equine therapy, horses are often used as a way to promote social interaction and communication between humans.
  2. Horses are non-judgmental: They are non-judgmental and offer unconditional acceptance to humans. This can help individuals with mental health issues or behavioral problems to feel more comfortable and open up more easily.
  3. Horses are sensitive to human emotions: Horses are highly sensitive to human emotions and can pick up on subtle changes in a person's mood or demeanor. In equine therapy, horses can serve as a mirror for the individual's emotions and behaviors, which can help them to develop greater self-awareness.
  4. Horses promote physical activity: Working with horses can be a physically demanding activity that promotes exercise and physical fitness.
  5. Horses provide a sense of accomplishment: Successfully working with a horse can be a challenging and rewarding experience that promotes self-esteem and confidence.

Equine therapy can take many forms, and the specific approach used will depend on the individual's needs and goals. Some common forms of equine therapy include horseback riding, ground work, grooming, and caring for horses. 

What does an Equine Therapy session look like?

Equine therapy sessions can vary depending on the specific goals and needs of the individual, but here are some common elements that may be included in a typical equine therapy session:

  1. Introduction: The session may start with an introduction between the individual and the therapist, as well as an introduction to the horse or horses that will be involved in the session.
  2. Grooming and care: Students may participate in grooming and caring for the horse, which can promote bonding and trust between our teens and the animal.
  3. Groundwork: Our teenagers may participate in various exercises and activities on the ground, such as leading the horse, navigating obstacles, or practicing communication and teamwork with the horse. The horse can also be used to develop non-verbal “listening” skills with participants. Horses communicate very subtly through body language and learning to key on such subtle language helps participants pay attention to social cues.
  4. Riding: If appropriate, the student may ride the horse under the guidance of a trained riding instructor or equine therapist. Riding can promote physical fitness, balance, and coordination, as well as provide a unique perspective and connection to the horse.
  5. Reflection and processing: Throughout the session, the therapist may facilitate discussion and reflection about the individual's experience with the horse. This can help the individual to develop greater self-awareness, identify emotions and behaviors, and practice communication and problem-solving skills.
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Equine therapy sessions are often conducted in a safe and supportive environment, with a trained therapist or riding instructor present at all times. The specific activities and exercises used in a session will depend on the individual's goals and needs, as well as the specific approach used by the therapist or organization.

What are the benefits of Equine Therapy?

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Equine therapy, also known as equine-assisted therapy or horse therapy, can offer a range of benefits for individuals struggling with mental health or behavioral issues. Some of the potential benefits of equine therapy include:

  1. Improved emotional regulation: Working with horses can help individuals to regulate their emotions and reduce feelings of anxiety or depression. Caring for and riding horses can be calming and grounding, and can provide a healthy outlet for the intense emotions associated with mental health and behavioral issues.
  2. Increased self-awareness: Equine therapy can promote greater self-awareness by helping individuals to identify their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This increased self-awareness can be helpful for individuals to better understand their mental health and behavioral issues, and to develop more effective coping strategies.
  3. Enhanced social skills: Interacting with horses can help individuals to develop social skills, such as communication, trust, and cooperation. These skills can be helpful for building stronger relationships with others and for developing a greater sense of community.
  4. Improved physical health: Caring for and riding horses can be physically demanding, which can promote physical health and fitness. Additionally, working with horses can provide a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem, which can be beneficial for overall well-being.
  5. Promote mindfulness and relaxation: Being present with horses, grooming and caring for them can promote mindfulness and relaxation, leading to a reduction of stress levels.

It's important to note that the specific benefits of equine therapy may vary depending on the individual's needs and goals, and that equine therapy is most effective when used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes other forms of therapy and support.

Case Studies of Equine Therapy

Equine therapy has been an important part of the treatment program at Havenwood Academy for many years. The therapy was developed based on the belief that working with horses can provide a unique and beneficial experience for individuals struggling with mental health and behavioral issues.

Sarah, a teenage girl who was adopted with reactive attachment disorder and trauma, shares her experience with equine therapy at Havenwood Academy:

"When I first started equine therapy, I was really scared of horses. I didn't trust them, and I didn't trust anyone else either. But as I started working with the horses, I realized that they were just like me. They had their own feelings and fears, and they needed someone to trust too. Working with the horses helped me to build a sense of trust and safety, not just with the horses, but with the people around me too. It helped me to feel like I wasn't alone, and that there was hope for me to heal and recover."

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or behavioral issues, we encourage you to take Havenwood Academy's online assessment. Our assessment can help to identify the specific needs and goals of the individual and provide information about the treatment options available at Havenwood Academy, including equine therapy. We believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to heal and recover, and we are committed to providing a safe and supportive environment for that healing.

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Resources:

If you have a teenage daughter who is struggling with mental health issues, behavioral problems, or addiction, taking the online assessment offered by Havenwood Academy could be an important first step towards getting her the help she needs. Havenwood Academy is a leading provider of group therapy and other treatment options for adolescent girls, offering a safe and supportive environment where young women can heal and grow.

References

Blossom, A. (n.d.). A global standard in equine-assisted psychotherapy and personal development. Eagala. Retrieved March 1, 2023, from https://www.eagala.org/