In equine therapy, Veterans are given the opportunity to work with horses. Equine therapy programs are designed to help Veterans heal from any mental trauma they have experienced in their lifetime. New research has shown that equine therapy might go a long way in starting the healing process for these Veterans. In many equine therapy programs, participants learn about horses, how to take care of them and how to build trust with animals.
So what exactly is Equine Therapy and how does it work?
Individuals can groom, feed, and guide a horse while being supervised by a mental health professional. The goal in this type of therapy is to help individuals develop better skills for emotional regulation, self-confidence, and a sense of responsibility. Growing in popularity due to its experiential nature, equine-assisted therapy shows evidence of its effectiveness. You may have heard these practices referred to as:
- Equine-assisted mental health
- Equine-assisted counseling
- Equine-facilitated psychotherapy
- Equine-assisted therapy
The last term, equine-assisted therapy, can also often refer to other forms of therapy where horses are used, such as with occupational therapy.
How did it develop?
Since the time of ancient Greeks, people have been using hoses for therapeutic purposes. Even Hippocrates (known as the “Father of Medicine”) described horseback riding as a potential therapeutic method.
During the 1950s and 1960s, riding became an increasingly popular therapeutic tool. In fact, in 1969, the North American Riding for Handicapped Association was formed. We now know this organization as PATH or the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship.
While equine therapy has been around for centuries, you may be wondering how it can help Veterans.
Veterans and Equine Therapy
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, equine therapy has been proven to be an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In a study that was conducted by the VA, it was found that equine therapy can help reduce symptoms of PTSD in Veterans. The study also showed that equine therapy can help Veterans connect with other people, improve their moods and increase self-confidence. It has been able to help Veterans who have PTSD by helping them overcome their mental health battles and develop new skills in order to improve their daily lives.
Veterans who participate in equine therapy often report feeling a sense of calmness and serenity when they are around horses. Horses are known for being peaceful animals that can help people to relax and de-stress. In equine therapy, Veterans have the opportunity to spend time with these beautiful creatures, which can help them to heal emotionally and mentally.
When working with equine therapists, Veterans are given the opportunity to learn about themselves through interactions with animals.
While many individuals and therapists, in particular, try to offer non-judgemental and unbiased advice while creating a safe place for individuals to explore and navigate deep emotional trauma, it can still be uncomfortable. Horses can offer a sense of calmness and peace as they generally only react to behavior and emotions with no threat of biases or judgment.
Horses are often observant and vigilant to movement and emotions. They have been known to mimic or mirror the client’s behavior or emotions, conveying understanding and a sense of connection when often allowing a client to feel connected to the horse. For therapists, this is a tool to encourage clients to rely on self-awareness. Tracking a horse’s behavior and interactions for feedback allows for check-in opportunities for individuals to process what is happening in a given moment.
Anxiety is often a symptom of PTSD, and equine therapy can help. While working with a horse during the therapeutic process, individuals can stay present and direct their focus to the task at hand.
When looking specifically at PTSD and equine therapy, one possible outcome is bonding. While working with Veterans through equine therapy, Tess Hassett – a riding instructor at Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program who has a background in clinical psychology, experienced just that. “A lot of them have said that after what they’ve been through with their PTSD and depression, they never thought they’d be able to bond with someone again and feel that personal connection. But with their hose, they’re feeling that connection. They’re able to take that into the rest of their lives and into their relationships.”
Equine therapy is a way Veterans can build trust, get to know themselves and others better while also strengthening their mental health.
There are many things to consider when seeking therapy, including equine therapy. Physical ability and overall health is an important consideration. While many individuals despide physical ability can participate in some aspects of equine therapy taking into consideration what aspects are crucial to each individual is important. Equine therapy does not solely rely on riding a horse, and individuals who are wheelchair-bound can benefit from other aspects of equine therapy such as grooming practices.
Each individual is at a different point in their journey; therefore, depending on what challenges one might be facing, the timing may or may not be suitable for equine therapy.
The Equine Assisted Grown and Learning Association is a non-profit dedicated to setting standards for professionals in a therapeutic setting who are working with horses. The organization offers training, and they have established certification processes that are specialized for those wanting to become recognized and trained to help with equine-assisted therapy.
New research shows that equine therapy might go a long way in starting the healing process for these Veterans. In the program, participants learned about horses, stroking their sides, cleaning hooves, and building trust with the animals. While many individuals and therapists, in particular, try to offer non-judgemental and unbiased advice while creating a safe place for individuals to explore and navigate deep emotional trauma, it can still be uncomfortable. If you know a Veteran who might be suffering from PTSD, encourage them to seek an equine therapy program. Equine therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for PTSD, and it can help Veterans start the healing process. Those interested in equine therapy should always consult with a licensed mental health professional to get an evaluation and diagnosis before seeking equine-assisted therapy. This is important because not every Veteran who experiences PTSD will also suffer from depression or anxiety.
Visit our website at www.lonesurvivorfoundation.org to learn more and apply for a program.