Substance use disorders change people in many ways. They impact bodily health, but they also alter a person’s self-esteem, thinking patterns, and ability to authentically connect with others. Finding a treatment program to stop the physical damage addiction creates may be a primary first step, but treatment needs to go further to provide comprehensive recovery. That’s where holistic treatment options, including equine therapy, can be so beneficial.
What Is Equine Therapy?
Equine therapy, also known as equine-assisted therapy or equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP, is a type of holistic therapy focused on improving your mental and emotional well-being. In its simplest form, it is about spending time with horses. Horses are highly social animals who have the unique ability to sense a person’s emotions and provide a level of support and even guidance that’s quite remarkable.
In equine therapy, you’ll get to experience this firsthand. You will never be left alone with a horse or put in a situation that makes you feel unsafe. Equine therapy typically takes place in a controlled and supervised environment at a horse farm or equine-assisted therapy center. It involves working with trained therapy horses and experienced therapists or equine specialists.
A Few Activities in Equine Therapy:
Equine therapy, or equine-assisted therapy, involves a range of activities designed to promote emotional, mental, and behavioral well-being through interactions with horses. These activities are conducted under the guidance of trained professionals, including therapists and equine specialists. Here are some common activities in equine therapy:
- Grooming and Care: Participants are taught how to groom, feed, and care for the horses. This activity promotes a sense of responsibility, trust-building, and bonding with the animal.
- Ground-Based Activities:
- Leading: Individuals learn to lead a horse from the ground, practicing clear communication and cooperation. This activity can emphasize leadership and confidence-building.
- Halting and Commanding: Participants practice halting the horse on command and guiding it through various maneuvers, fostering trust and control.
- Lunging: Lunging involves leading the horse in a circle at a distance. It helps individuals develop awareness of body language and non-verbal communication.
- Obstacle Courses: Creating and navigating obstacle courses with the horse encourages problem-solving, teamwork, and patience.
- Mounted Activities:
- Riding: Riding can be a part of equine therapy, and it offers individuals the opportunity to build confidence, improve balance, and develop a sense of control.
- Balance Exercises: Riders can perform balance exercises on horseback, which can be especially beneficial for those with sensory or coordination challenges.
- Trail Riding: Exploring natural surroundings on horseback can provide relaxation and a sense of connection with nature.
- Art and Creativity: Some equine therapy programs incorporate art and creativity. Participants may create artwork inspired by their experiences with the horses, using the creative process as a form of self-expression and reflection.
- Mindfulness and Meditation: Equine-assisted mindfulness and meditation practices may involve sitting quietly with a horse, observing their movements and breath, and practicing relaxation techniques. This can help individuals reduce stress and enhance focus.
Team Approach: Equine therapy is often conducted in a team-based approach. In addition to equine specialists, therapists, and mental health professionals, the horse is considered a part of the therapeutic team.
Complementary Therapy: Equine therapy is typically used as a complementary or adjunct therapy alongside traditional addiction treatment methods like counseling, group therapy, and medical interventions.
We use equine therapy for many things, including as a way to identify treatment issues and needs. It can also help you to explore a new way of building relationships based on open communication. The activities you engage in will also help you build a bond with the horse that can be vital to healing.
What Are the Benefits of Equine Therapy?
How can spending time with a horse help you see improvement in your mental health and substance use disorder? Equine therapy can be a valuable addition to a comprehensive addiction treatment program, particularly for individuals who respond well to experiential and non-traditional therapies. Consider some of the benefits equine therapy offers.
Improve Your Self-Image
Caring for and working with horses will help you to improve the way you see yourself. The work you do provides you with a sense of purpose and can help you to learn how to focus on the needs of someone else. You’ll learn patience and perhaps even some courage. Over time, many people develop a strong connection with the horses, which ultimately boosts confidence.
Reduce Stress and Build Stress Tolerance
For people with substance use disorders, any amount of stress can feel overwhelming. You cannot eliminate stress, but with equine therapy, you can learn to master it. Working with horses helps you unwind, calm your mind, and focus on what you’re doing. You’ll learn that horses need and appreciate mindfulness, and this practice in paying attention will help you become aware of what you’re thinking and feeling at any given moment. You’ll learn how to center yourself and work through difficult emotions.
Horses are very empathetic creatures, attuned to the feelings and moods of those around them. This sensitivity helps them know when to protect themselves, since their well-being is often dependent on the reactions and insights of those around them. In therapy, the way a horse reacts to you can reveal what emotions you might be trying to cover up. It can show you when you need to be more sensitive to what the horse is feeling and what it needs. Earning a horse’s trust is a profoundly healing experience.
Gain Impulse Control
Similarly, equine therapy helps you learn to better manage your impulses and reactions, which can help you avoid addiction relapse. When interacting with the horse, you’ll need to remain calm and measured, as they can read your feelings and adjust to them. This forces you to learn emotional regulation and helps to improve self-control. It can also help you see just how much behavioral control you have in your daily life.
Could Equine Therapy Help You?
Many people are afraid of horses or may not have any experience with them. That’s okay. You can decide what you’re comfortable with.
Equine therapy typically takes place in a controlled and supervised environment at a horse farm or equine-assisted therapy center. It involves working with trained therapy horses and experienced therapists or equine specialists.
We encourage you to explore equine therapy as a way to support your recovery process. It doesn’t take the place of working with your therapists or in group sessions, but it does provide a very effective way of exploring your thoughts and feelings and building self-esteem.
Explore Our Program Today
English Mountain has a strong history of offering equine therapy programs that foster success. You could be a part of that. Contact us today to learn more about our addiction treatment center in Sevierville, TN, and how we can help you.