As mental health issues become more apparent within our society, alternative treatment methods are at the forefront of research. Humans and horses have an established and valuable relationship. From working to companionship, equestrian uses are far and wide. In recent years, horses have played a key part in the mental rehabilitation of many people around the world and will continue to do so.
Equine-assisted psychotherapy was constructed to accompany medical mental health intervention treatments. Used as a tool for emotional growth and learning, the individual interacts with the horse in their natural environment, participating in activities whilst discussing and processing feelings, behaviors, and patterns.
Defined as ‘a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being’, mental health can be related to substance abuse, trauma/PTSD, and poor social skills.
There is an abundance of documented research exposing the link between drug and/or alcohol abuse and mental health issues; especially in reference to depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. As pack animals, horses can sense and respond to other creatures’ feelings, specifically if the person feels scared, sad, happy, angry, or nervous.
This can assist substance abusers to understand feelings they may not be aware of, as the horse mirrors such feelings and so provides immediate feedback to the participant. Interactions with the horses can modify an individual’s ability to interact with people, and therefore encourage open conversation about their addiction. The non-judging relationship horses offer can help individuals who are dealing with the negative relationship consequences by illuminating the risk of criticism.
Equine-assisted psychotherapy programs are made up of activities that contribute to the quality of caring for a horse. Grooming the horse, stabling them, tacking them up, riding them, cooling them down, feeding/watering, and cleaning the stalls are all interactions that will help the participants gain confidence and learn about themselves.
Working with these large, unfamiliar animals encourage people to come out of their comfort zone, and this attributed courage can overflow to other parts of their lives, beginning the illumination of poor self-image and low self-esteem often felt by PTSD suffers.
As mentioned previously, horses offer a unique interactive experience for the participant. The sensitivity horses have to emotional and verbal cues can allow individuals to understand assertive communication skills and emotional communication awareness, all attributing to the development of social skills. As the participant learns how to care for and train with the horse, they are improving their ability to listen to others and effectively grasp the benefits of two-way conversations.
Horses can fulfil the basic needs of social comfort by providing emotional closeness and safety through the nourishment of a reliable alliance. This connection can provide social support, and it is this perceived experience of an interaction that is beneficial, not the behavior of the horse itself. Equine-assisted psychotherapy can benefit people of all ages who are unresponsive to traditional therapies alone. A horse’s comparability to human dynamics makes them the perfect creature for building characteristics that assist in overcoming mental health issues.
Emily Davis works at Cheval Liberte as community manager. Cheval Liberté have been designing, developing and producing stalls, stables, and stable equipment since 1995. Driven by their passion for horses, Cheval Liberté was founded by both riders and breeders and since 2005 this passion has been implemented in the UK, with our North Wales company being the sole importers of Cheval Liberté products for distribution and erection throughout the UK & Ireland.