Equine therapy is an innovative approach that integrates horses (or simulators) into mental health treatment. Sometimes, people cal it equine-assisted therapy, therapeutic riding, or equestrian therapy.
Through various equine-like activities children, teens, and adults can build confidence and trust to form healthier boundaries. Though some therapies involve feeding and taking care of a horse, others use a simulator to focus on the movements of a horse.
That means they can be used in schools and at home to provide the calming effect of riding a horse. Ultimately, with that, people can address their emotions and issues through various techniques. If teens don’t prefer talk therapy or don’t know how to communicate effectively, they become calmer and may decide to open up.
A Quick History
Today’s equine therapy programs have evolved from many years of horse-involved therapeutic methods. The earliest mention of such therapy comes from Hippocrates, the Greek physician who wrote about hippotherapy.
German doctors also prescribed horseback riding to reduce hysteria and hypochondria attacks. Europeans promoted and standardized therapeutic riding methods to promote mental health wellness and reduce physical pains.
Many mental health programs and inpatient rehab centers use horse programs for children and have since the 1990s.
How Equine Therapy Works
With equine-assisted therapy, children can learn to accept others and themselves by working with horses or riding simulators. They gain a connection with the horse or simulator and can experience many benefits through its motions.
Research has shown that equine therapy can treat people with anxiety, depression, and trauma-related symptoms. However, it goes further to deal with autism, ADHD, and many other mental health issues.
According to the Autism Parenting Magazine (2020), teenagers showed more calmness, self-esteem, confidence, emotional regulation, and assertiveness because of equine-assisted therapy. Sometimes, it only takes a few sessions to see improvements.
On top of that, equine therapy can reduce depression and anxiety through physiological changes. The children reduce their production of cortisol, which is a stress-producing hormone. From there, it can also add calmness to the situation, which can lower blood pressure. It also increases oxytocin release, a natural chemical that can promote positive feelings.
Horses are uniquely sensitive to other people’s feelings. They can also react to various subtle changes within their environment. Therefore, a horse can sense the teen’s emotional state, such as anxiety or depression.
Simulators (machines that mimic the riding of a horse) are frequently used by parents and schools, as well as therapists. However, they do not provide the emotional connection that a horse can. Still, it can relax and calm a distressed person, so they can talk about their feelings more adequately.
As a result, people feel accepted and find that their mental health improves with time.
Types of Equine Therapy
There are various types of equine therapy, such as:
With real horses, equine therapy can focus on taking care of the animal, brushing its hair, feeding it, and riding it. Children and teens can develop life skills, such as trust, communication, honesty, and self-awareness.
However, more and more people are turning to simulators because they mimic the feel of riding or being on a horse. Since it brings calmness and relaxation, it can reduce ADHD and help with other mental health issues. On top of that, children see more confidence and self-esteem while improving their posture and balance.
The Advantages of Equine Therapy
Equine-assisted therapy in any form can support children and teens on various levels. According to Lee et al. (2018) published in the International Journal of Advanced Robotics, equine therapy can help with the following:
More Self-esteem and Confidence
Teens learn how to stay calm, which can help them use their coping mechanisms. Through that, they gain confidence and self-esteem to be active members of society. They’re often more motivated in school and home life.
Improved Balance, Posture, and Mobility
Those who have posture, mobility, or balance problems may find that riding a horse simulator can help. The gentle and slow movements help children and teens find their center. They must sit up straight to avoid falling over. They then develop muscle memory to help them in everyday activities.
More Strength and Coordination
When riding a horse, you need coordination and strength. The simulator helps children develop that with time. Even a few minutes a day can build more coordination and help with fine motor skills. They also strengthen their core, which helps them sit up straight and have more balance while walking.
Better Communication Skills
Equine therapy can teach people how important nonverbal communication is. Though there’s no live horse to react, they can improve their mood, which helps them talk instead of getting upset or frustrated. Ultimately, they learn to pick up nonverbal cues from others and focus more on positivity than negativity.
Feelings of Calmness Instead of Worry
Many children and teens find that they worry all the time. When they sit on the simulator, they experience calmness. There’s a gentle movement that relaxes their minds and bodies. On top of that, it’s rhythmic and continues in a similar pattern. Those who have trouble concentrating find that the movement helps them focus for longer periods.
With that, they aren’t worried about not being good enough or doing something wrong. Ultimately, that’s why parents and teachers use equine therapy through simulators.
Equine therapy through a simulator can also help provide a sense of trust. Many teens and children experience abuse, abandonment, or trauma. When they are allowed to ride the simulator on specific days, it instills trust for the therapists and parents. You’re allowing them to do it, promising it, and following through.
It’s important to be skeptical of any treatment you choose for your child. However, equine therapy is quite effective to treat people with neuro disabilities and other mental health problems. In effect, you can get the same benefits without having to own a horse or rent one.
Many teachers and therapists use simulators where the children sit on the machine and have it move like a horse. You get the same advantages and can instill calmness and relaxation in troubled kids.
REST: Because it works
It’s time to put REST into your life. And take advantage of all of the benefits equine motion has to offer any time, any place. At Gait, we firmly believe it will be a powerful, rewarding, and effective tool for helping treat your special needs child, children, or adult.
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