Healing Horses

Recently, many breed and showing associations have begun creating classes for disabled equestrians. However, the use of horses for therapeutic horses is not a new concept. Horses are used in numerous therapeutic ways. They have been used as in integral part of mental and physical disability programs, behavioral modification programs, trouble youth programs, veteran rehabilitation programs, and addiction programs. I worked for a few years at a therapeutic riding facility while in high school, working with some of the kids that participated in that program is something I will never forget. The parents would talk about what a rough week it had been, or if a poor diagnosis was passed on, no matter what was thrown at these kids, they always showed up for their lessons. You would see the bad days, and poor diagnosis’s melt away to be replaced by smiles, and determination. The interactions that I would witness between horse and student were incredible.

Horses are herd animals, which allows them the ability to react to our body language. This plays a large part in therapy programs. For example, if someone where to approach a horse in a harsh and angry manner, the horse will most likely shy away and not respond well to our attempts at handling. Horses encourage those in therapy to become aware of their body language and even become aware of emotions such as anger that they may not have realized they were exhibiting. Likewise, patients who do not benefit from talking through therapy might find the distraction of the horses welcome during the sessions. For patients with autism or disabilities, other mental illnesses horses can bring them a sense of calm that they may not have in their daily lives.  Patients with physical disabilities can benefit as well from working with horses. The gaits of the horses can stimulate areas of the human body to help with balance, flexibility and mobility. With troubled teens and addiction programs the horses add a sense of responsibility, a new focus and a new pattern. These new patterns and responsibilities can be vital in helping troubled teens and addicts leave the patterns, which lead to the addiction or trouble in the first place.

Self-confidence and a sense of worth is something horses give to all who work with them. This sense of worth and confidence can give anyone a new lease on life. As they learn a new set of tools and talents, it gives that person something to be proud of. Furthermore, it gives that person something to show for all of their hard work whether it is around the barn or even within them.

Horses ability to act as our therapists goes beyond these programs; I’m sure all of us horse owners and enthusiasts alike can all agree that we are generally happier and more at peace at the barn. Furthermore, we have learned a significant amount through working with horses. This knowledge extends beyond how to work with horses, we have learned about ourselves as well. I have learned that you cannot take your bad day to the barn. You have to leave it all at the door and start every day anew.

-Emily Bomgardner

To learn more about horses in therapy programs check out the links below:
https://www.recoveryranch.com/articles/recovery-at-the-ranch/equine-therapy-drug-rehab-treatment/
http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/feb/26/horses-therapists-stress-autism-addiction

Pictures Courtesy of:
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KimesMatthew Kimes