21 Oct How Horses Help With Mental Health Issues
When combined with traditional psychotherapy, activities involving horses can help people suffering from a range of mental conditions, including depression and ADHD.
Humans and horses have maintained a healthy relationship for millennia — research suggests people first domesticated the large ungulates 6,000 years ago in the western region of the Eurasian Steppe. But far from being the simple beasts of burden or transportation tools they were in the past, horses today have become key players in the mental rehabilitation of many people around the world.
Equine-assisted therapy is an umbrella term encompassing several therapeutic activities involving horses. Hippotherapy, for example, utilizes the movement of horses for physical, occupational, or speech therapy, and has been used to treat motor and sensory issues associated with cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and stroke, among other things. Though horses have been used for physical therapy since at least the fifth century B.C., the formal discipline of hippotherapy wasn’t established until the 1960s.
On the other hand, equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) — a type of experiential psychotherapy that uses horses to help in the treatment of psychological and behavioral issues — is a much newer activity that isn’t widely practiced yet, says Hallie Sheade, a licensed professional counselor who runs Equine Connection Counseling, an EAP practice based in Texas. “It is a very exciting and rapidly growing field,” she says.
How Horses Help
While scientists understand how the rhythmic movement of horses can assist with motor and sensory problems, how horses help with mental or behavioral issues hasn’t been completely worked out.
“The mechanism of action hasn’t been well established for equine-assisted therapies with relation to non-physiological, non-mobility activities,” says Alexa Smith-Osborne, an associate professor of social work at the University of Texas at Arlington, who studied equine-assisted therapy. “Nevertheless, on a practical basis, there are some theoretical perspectives.”
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