Equine animal-assisted therapy is beneficial in that horses are very good at mirroring the mood of the human they work with. Horses also need more grooming than cats or dogs, and patients find the repetitive motions of grooming to be calming. People in physical therapy who ride horses often find that the calm walking gait of a horse is like the walking gait of a human, so the rider’s balance and lower body strength improves. Riding a horse can also be great exercise for horse and rider alike.
Studies show that participants in equine AAT programs report less psychological distress after they complete the program and report more mental stability six months after the study than those who do traditional talk therapy. Lisa, a participant at Horsefeathers Therapeutic Riding, LLC, agrees that horses offer something that traditional therapy programs don’t. Lisa initially entered a residential treatment program for an eating disorder and first encountered equine therapy there. She found equine AAT to be so beneficial that she sought it out as an outpatient.
Below is my interview with Lisa about her experiences at Horsefeathers with a rescued horse named Captain:
What initially drew you to this program?
When I was in residential in 2013, we had equine therapy two days a week. I fell in love with it and have continued as outpatient. It has shown me truly how to be authentic and live my life towards my values.
What does this program offer that others don’t?
I have found that this program brings out my authenticity more so than talking to a therapist alone.
What is Captain’s story?
Captain was an abused horse until he was saved by the barn. He was extremely underweight and scarred. Typical our session could include grooming, riding or just being present in his area.
To the extent at which you’re comfortable telling me, how has working with Captain helped you?
I relate a lot to Captain’s story of abuse and being left scarred and scared. Captain showed me how to overcome my body image and therefore I was able to gain the weight I needed to survive, just like him. It’s like we went through the journey together and slowly the scars are starting to not be as noticeable.
What would you tell people who are interesting in equine therapy?
I would highly recommend it, especially if you have trouble verbally expressing yourself. Horses know when you are present and authentic without saying a word. There’s a connection beyond words and all the horses want is you, not an expectation of who you think you should be!