Monday, July 15, 2013

What Is Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy?

Animal therapy is a growing aspect of treating psychological conditions with our furry (and sometimes not-so-furry) pets and friends. One growing trend in animal treatments is equine therapy, the use of horses to help psychological issues, developmental challenges, or emotional growth in patients.

Riding on a horse, even if it is only infrequently, allows a patient to develop a bond with the animal that creates confidence, trust, social skills, and self-value that may have been difficult to foster using traditional therapy. Equine facilitated psychotherapy is a common method of treatment for many conditions.

What But A Horse, Of Course

What makes a horse such a helpful companion to development and therapy? Horses are different than other pet therapy animals like dogs: though both are social animals, dogs are eager to please while horses are much more aloof. Horses respond to commands, but do not do so in ways that a human would expect: yelling or clapping or whistling does not do much to stir them, leaving patients with the lesson that not all problems in life can be overcome with yelling. Rather, horses obey commands when they trust the person giving them, creating a lesson with patients about the need to trust on both sides of a relationship, even if one is giving more commands than they receive.


One of the first lessons that a patient will learn with equine therapy is how to get your horse to come over to them without actually touching the animal. This can be used for patients with social anxieties or who need to develop a sense of confidence; it is a common exercise at a drug rehab facility on a horse ranch.  The students who can figure out how to cajole a horse and come to their side will then learn how to lead a horse out of its pasture, and finally how to ride it.

Ride On

One of the great moments in equine facilitated psychotherapy is where a horse allows a patient to ride. This can be an exhilarating experience for a patient, since getting around by horse is so different than a bicycle or car. Riding a horse requires a patient to develop a connection, minimizing their feelings of isolation while giving them a new perspective of teamwork and cooperation. Since the horse is a steady and methodical animal, it works to increase a patient's impulse control and patience as they learn how to ride.

The above entry is a guest blog entry.

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