For a long time, humans have turned to animals, normally our pets, for comfort when going through tough times. There is plenty of evidence that shows how having pets can be incredibly beneficial for our mental health. While cats and especially dogs tend to reign supreme in this area, primarily because of more accessible ownership, there is another animal that in a way seems to possess healing powers: Horses. So much so, in fact, that there are places that specialize in Equine Therapy. This is the healing power of horses, and why you might want to give equine therapy a try.
What Is Equine Therapy?
Equine therapy, also known as horse therapy or horse-assisted therapy, is a unique approach that utilizes the powerful connection between humans and horses to promote healing, well-being, and personal growth. People have used Equine Therapy to help them through depression and anxiety, eating disorders, the loss of a loved one, addictions, and many other mental health problems. (1) Over the years, numerous studies have highlighted the extraordinary ability that horses possess to aid us in our journey towards healing. One such study, conducted by researchers in Saskatchewan, Canada, sheds light on the positive impact of horse therapy on patients.
The Saskatchewan Horse Therapy Study
One notable study that demonstrates the transformative effects of equine therapy was conducted by researchers from the University of Regina campus in Saskatoon and the University of Saskatchewan. The study, which began in 2014, involved gathering feedback from 60 clients across four addiction and mental health treatment sites in the province. (2)
According to the report, participants in the study engaged in nearly 300 sessions with therapy horses. The feedback collected revealed a common theme – a profound sense of happiness experienced by the individuals involved. Darlene Chalmers, an assistant social work professor at the University of Regina, emphasized the participants’ connection with the horses and the facilitators of the program.
“They also reported a connection with the horses and that connection was discussed or shared in relation to feeling a sense of love, and feeling supported by the horses but also the facilitator of the program.” said Chalmers.
The Impact of Equine Therapy
Equine therapy allows individuals to form a unique bond with horses, enabling an environment of healing and growth. The study found that horses are naturally attuned to their surroundings and quickly establish connections with the clients. This innate ability of horses to engage and connect with humans can have remarkable therapeutic benefits.
One significant finding of the study was that patients reported feeling more positive and experienced improved focus after participating in equine therapy sessions. These positive outcomes align with the therapeutic benefits often associated with animal-assisted therapy. Interacting with horses can create a sense of love, support, and trust, contributing to the overall well-being of the participants.
The Healing Power of Horses
Equine therapy has long been recognized as an effective treatment option for various mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The serene and non-judgmental nature of horses allows individuals to feel safe and protected, creating an ideal environment for healing and personal growth.
Unlike traditional therapy settings, equine therapy offers a dynamic and interactive experience. Patients are encouraged to engage in activities such as grooming, leading, and riding the horses, which promote physical and emotional well-being. These experiences not only build self-confidence but also improve communication skills, emotional regulation, and problem-solving abilities.
“The horse is an amazing animal, and there’s so much research now that is advancing our understanding of how horse-human interactions impact health,” said Dr. Pebbles Turbeville, executive director of the nonprofit Horses & Humans Research Foundation. (3)
The Future of Equine Therapy Research
Building upon the success of the Saskatchewan study, Chalmers and researcher Colleen Dell of the University of Saskatchewan have expressed their intentions to develop a larger study to delve deeper into the subject. This future research will provide a more comprehensive understanding of the therapeutic benefits of equine-assisted therapy and further contribute to the growing body of evidence supporting its effectiveness.
Equine therapy continues to garner recognition as a valuable approach in promoting healing, personal growth, and overall well-being. The study conducted by Saskatchewan researchers reinforces the extraordinary ability that horses have in helping us achieve emotional, mental, and physical healing. As we continue to explore the profound connection between humans and horses, equine therapy is poised to become an integral part of therapeutic interventions, offering individuals a unique and transformative path towards healing and recovery.