Equine Therapy: What Is It Good For?

While those familiar to horses would contend that horses, in general, are good for any type of person, therapists, for whom which equine therapy is a new, untested field, have not been so quick to jump on the bandwagon.

Many of the concerns expressed have surrounded the relative lack of evidence available indicating the efficacy of work with horses, but also, lack of clarity as to what particular diagnosis may be helped by equine therapy.

Certainly these concerns are not without validity as we have learned that with the fertile emergence of all types of experiential therapies, some approaches are not helpful, and in some ways harmful, for certain types of clients.

Is Equine Therapy Supported By Research?

Is Equine Therapy supported by research?

While anecdotal reports purporting the benefits of equine-facilitated therapy abound, and a plethora of literature describing the experience of those who love horses can be found at any local bookstore, we still must wonder, is any of this equine fascination supported by research?

Eating Disorders

Do Horses Really Mirror People in Equine Therapy?

In the world of equine facilitated psychotherapy, the fascination of working with an extremely large, and often frightening animal, especially in a way that offers insight, and possibly healing, has held an exclusive allure for those who have come to know of this powerful therapy.

And while people lucky enough to have experienced the strange feeling of wellness, calm, and centeredness that a horse can bring have struggled for words to describe this feeling, practitioners of equine therapy have put many labels on just what it is horses can do for people.


A Short History of Equine Therapy

As early as 1969, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) recognized the physically therapeutic impact of riding for those with physical disabilities. With promising results, the interest in this approach grew, and NARHA soon expanded to it present size of more than 800 member centers, over 3,500 certified instructors and 6,500 members.

The Nature of the Horse as Healer

Horses have always had to escape predators. As prey animals, their survival has forever depended on their ability to run. While horses are fast creatures by nature, they are not the fastest. However, they can typically run for longer periods of time than most of their predators.

In order to remain alive, then, they had to become better at detecting potential predators than the predators were at remaining undetected. They had to sense that they were being stalked before a predator was able to get too close, and therefore able to overcome them before they could outrun him. So the horses’ task of surviving then, becomes directly related to their ability to perceive any potential threat that enters their environment, and to react quickly to this threat.

For this reason, horses are constantly watching everything in the environment. People often describe this as “flighty” or “nervous,” as the horse can react very quickly, often without warning. Yet this is the horse’s only way of ensuring his safety. What this means as a healer is that the horse has an innate ability to detect subtle psychological shifts within a person that render him unsafe.

How is it that a horse is so finely tuned to “read,” people, and thereby offer healing, even when the answers are not obvious? Well, when a horse scans the environment, a heightening of the sensations that provide feedback for the events in the environment occurs.