Equestrian therapy (also known as equine therapy or Equine-Assisted Therapy [EAT]) is a form of therapy that makes use of horses to help promote emotional growth. Equestrian therapy is particularly applied to patients with ADD, anxiety, autism, dementia, delay in mental development, down syndrome and other genetic syndromes, depression, trauma and brain injuries, behavior and abuse issues and other mental health issues.
In many instances, riders with disabilities have proven their remarkable equestrian skills in various national and international competitions. This is the reason why equestrian therapy has been recognized as an important area in the medical field in many countries.
Equestrian or equine therapy is also an effective technique for many therapists to teach troubled youth on how they learn, react and follow instructions. For example in a beginners’ horse therapy, the students were asked to get the horse move outside of a circle without even touching it. Students tried to clap, yell and whistle but the horse didn’t heed the signal. In the same manner, parents, friends and others who are part of a troubled youth’s therapy would learn that yelling, clapping and forcing would notbe the best way to make the person do something.
Horses are the most popularly used animal for therapy although elephants, dolphins, cats and dogs may also be used. This is because, horses have the ability to respond immediately and give feedback to the rider’s action or behavior. Horses are also able to mirror the rider’s emotion.
The basis of the therapy is that because horses behave similarly like human beings do in their social and responsive behavior; it is always easy for patients to establish connection with the horse.
People with cognitive, psycho-motor and behavioral disabilities have shown positive results when equestrian or equine therapy is taught correctly by certified equine therapists. Just like other therapies such as physical, occupational and speech-language therapy, people with disabilities are being helped or assisted by certified therapists to cope with their disability like regular or normal people can. However, equine therapy combines all three in such a way that the patients or students do not feel that they are actually under therapy.
In the process, equestrian or equine therapy aims for its patients or students to:
- Build sense of self-worth, self-concept
- Improve communication
- Build trust and self-efficiency
- Develop socialization skills and decrease isolation
- Learn impulse control and emotional management
- Set perspective
- Learn their limits or boundaries