What Is Equine Assisted Therapy?

Equine Assisted Therapy is an emerging field of therapy that pairs therapy clients with an appropriate equine partner to promote the client’s growth and learning.  Why horses when dogs/cats/other soft, furry creatures are less intimidating and familiar?  Horses are especially valuable in the therapy process due to their prey animal instincts. They are highly sensitive to their environment and responsive to human emotional cues.  With this sensitivity to subtle changes, horses often respond to people differently based on the individual’s emotional state.  This feedback provides exceptional insight into the client’s internal process and a valuable opportunity for skill building.

Another distinguishing quality of the horse is its impressive size and power, making them naturally intimidating to people.  By interacting with these animals, clients are able to build confidence as they overcome fear and establish assertiveness.  Many times, clients who have trouble relating to people are able to connect with the horses in ways that are profound and powerful. In the presence of these intuitive animals, people often become more present, mindful, and self-aware.

Equine Assisted Therapy is experiential in nature. Clients learn by directly working with a horse. The activities are chosen intentionally to reveal important insights and encourage certain skills. Clients are then given the opportunity to discuss feelings, behaviors, and patterns they noticed during the activity and how those elements may be apparent in other areas of their lives. Non-verbal communication, problem solving, boundary setting, leadership, confidence, and relationships are all common themes.

Therapy with horses has been used for a variety of mental health needs including eating disorders, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, ADHD, grief and loss, and relationship problems. Individuals, couples, families, and teams can all benefit from this type of therapy.