A Safe and Natural Way to Reduce Stress & Improve Overall Health
By Contributing Author, Ainsley Lawrence
Equine therapy — also sometimes referred to as horse therapy — involves everything from horseback riding to grooming, feeding, and leading horses. While it might sound like a fun hobby (and it is!), it’s a wonderful experimental therapy that can help with a variety of physical, emotional, and behavioral challenges.
Why is it so beneficial? How can something as simple as interacting with a horse really help to improve someone’s overall health and wellness?
Horses are non-judgemental, gentle, and patient animals. Their attitudes typically reflect the behaviors of the person handling them. They also allow people with certain mental and physical health issues to heal in precise, individualized ways because no two horses are the same, and no two interactions are the same.
Equine therapy is an excellent option for those with poor communication skills, poor coordination skills, high-stress levels, and a lack of problem-solving skills. It is also helpful for people struggling with ADHD and autism.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how equine therapy can help people to heal from the inside out.
Nature Helps to Nurture
One of the most significant benefits of equine therapy starts before even climbing onto a horse. Simply being outside can set the stage for healing and wellness. Being out in nature gives people a dose of vitamin D, which can boost energy and feelings of happiness. It can also help one feel more relaxed, which reduces stress levels.
Horseback riding is a great way to get blood flowing and experience all nature has to offer. Many people think of riding horses as something that needs to be done in a controlled venue, or in some kind of professional setting. But, riding outside is unbeatable! Unlike riding in an arena or a fenced-in environment, trail rides allow one to experience miles of open land and enjoy the beauty of nature at a gentle, trotting pace. This helps with everything from assertiveness to stress.
Physical Healing Benefits
While working with horses can help with a variety of mental and emotional conditions, it’s important to remember the physical healing benefits, too. They range from simple improvements like lowering blood pressure to helping with movement and neurological disorders like cerebral palsy.
When an individual is on a horse, a trained therapist will help to direct the horse’s movements while assisting the person riding to find balance and respond to those movements. Over time, the rider can start to control the horse’s movements as they become stronger and more coordinated.
Additionally, it’s been suggested that the gentle, rhythmic movements of horses can help people who struggle with coordination and strength. It can also help to improve posture. It can improve general motor functions, including hand-eye coordination, when making adjustments to techniques while riding. For this reason, horseback riding can actually seem a little intimidating at first.
That’s where the emotional benefits of being around horses start to come in. They are gentle giants that can provide a sense of tranquility and an emotional release that’s hard to experience through more traditional forms of therapy.
Cognitive Healing Benefits
Equine therapy may shine the most when it comes to cognitive disorders, emotional issues, and mental health problems. It can help with a variety of different conditions, from invisible illnesses like chronic fatigue to ADHD and autism. That’s why it’s incredibly beneficial for children.
Kids who have autism, for example, often have trouble expressing their emotions and learning new skills. Working with horses allows them to do both.
The movements and behaviors of horses are a type of feedback that’s easy to pick up on. A child (or adult) who is riding a horse can be mindful and aware of that. Riding allows one to be more self-aware and in touch with their own emotions in a safe place.
For someone with autism, it helps them to demonstrate positive behaviors while learning new things.
When it comes to depression and anxiety, equine therapy helps by encouraging the person to step out of their comfort zone in a safe space. It’s a great way to overcome challenges, note experiences, and work through the feelings one might go through as a result.
Even with more extreme mental health conditions like PTSD, equine therapy can be beneficial as part of the healing process. It allows one to connect with someone/something again, building trust and encouraging a healthy relationship.
The Powerful Impact of Equine Therapy
Interacting with horses provides so many benefits for people. It’s a safe and natural way to reduce stress, improve coordination, learn new skills, and work through emotional, mental, and physical issues in a healing environment. The best part? It’s beneficial for adults and kids alike without being overly-intimidating. That can make it easier to open up, show vulnerabilities, and accept the healing power of equine therapy.