Horse therapy - what will they think of next, right? Using horses as therapy animals is nothing new, though. Horse therapy has been around for ages, but national standards weren't developed until 2005. Now, some colleges even offer equine therapy programs for those interested in becoming mental health professionals who use horses to work with their patients.
Patients from all corners of the healthcare world have been shown to benefit from horse therapy, ranging from those with autism to those with PTSD, and various other disorders. Although there is some contention in the mental health world about equine therapy, most therapists agree that having more options to treat patients is better than having fewer.
Besides, horses are not even close to being the strangest therapy animal out there. Not by a long shot! I mean, ducks? Turtles? What will they think of next?
Horse Therapy Isn't A Strict Program
A session in an equine therapy program can look many different ways. For some patients, recognizing their own emotions in the horse can be an eye-opening experience. Some patients construct some aspect of their life that is troubling, kind of like an obstacle course. As they lead the horse through the course, the patient can see how the horse treats certain obstacles and learn from it.
For other patients, building a relationship with a horse can help teach communication skills and how to set boundaries. Clearly there is no one specific way to go about horse therapy.
Horses Are Surprisingly Ideal For Therapy Work - Because They Act Like People
On a basic level, simply riding a horse provides a physical benefit. Because the body has to adjust to the horse's movement, the rider gains strength. For those with speech challenges, simply communicating with the horse is a type of therapy.
But the psychological benefit stems from horses acting like people do. Because of this, a patient can find common ground with the horse. Some researchers have also noted that horses have similar social dynamics to that of human beings. Horses sense human emotion, so therapists use this as a way to show the patient his or her own feelings.
Not Just Any Horse Can Be A Therapy Horse
Surprisingly, most horses offered to equine therapy programs are turned away. In order to be a therapy horse, the horse needs to be - in a word - chill.
The different types of situations that a therapy horse can be exposed to requires the horse to have a calm temperament, move well, and not get spooked easily. Any type of horse can be a therapy horse, however, and those who are initially accepted into equine therapy programs are put through their paces before being matched with a patient. The horse must prove that it can handle distractions with a good disposition.
If your horse wants to run like he's an extra in Seabiscuit he's probably not cut out for being a therapy horse.
Evidence Supports Horse Therapy, But Not Enormously
There's plenty of quack science out there - I mean, we've used leeches, cocaine, opium, and arsenic just in the past 200 years as medical treatments, so the bar is relatively low. Science has proven, of course, that taking arsenic doesn't cure syphilis, but is there real, scientific evidence to back up the validity of horse therapy?
Studies on equine therapy have been published in peer-reviewed journals, immediately lending equine therapy some legitimacy. A February 2017 study showed that while patients in equine therapy did improve, they didn't improve markedly over the control group. The researchers concluded that equine therapy can be a good addition to traditional methods.
Another study, albeit with a small group, found that nine out of 14 individuals showed significant progress in areas such as behavioral health and psychosocial health.