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Equine therapy can have a dramatic, positive impact for successful addiction therapy. It is well known across many therapeutic modalities, the benefits that horses provide to people. Since horses personalities are so similar and varied, like humans, it is easy for individuals to create connections with them. The equine program at Tranquility Woods helps clients build confidence, self-esteem and boundaries.
Equine therapy is a very popular adjunct to our program. Our clients often find their sessions very satisfying, calming and emotionally healing.
What Is Equine Therapy?
“The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man” ~Ronald Reagan
As a lifelong equestrian, horses have been integrated into my life in a multitude of ways and spending time with them always leaves me happier. So, when clients ask me about the equine-assisted therapy, it’s easy to go on and on about the value they provide in recovery.
Horses are large, highly sensitive creatures. Their size alone is intimidating to many. They have allowed humans to ride them into war, use them as beasts of burden, and act as partners in work and sport. There is no reason that an animal with a highly tuned flight instinct should allow us into their world so gently and patiently, but they do.
Learning how to trust an animal that weighs more than half a ton is empowering. Horses and humans have been bonded for thousands of years and it is this bond that allows horses to sense and react to human emotions and feelings. A horse can sense a human heartbeat from four feet away, and an increase in the heart rate of a human who is handling or riding a horse also causes the horse’s heart rate to increase.
Working with horses forces you to be present, something many people in active addiction have been avoiding for a long time. When you use drugs or alcohol to numb emotions, it takes time to learn how to deal with those feelings again when they surface. We always say the horse is your mirror. If you are calm, chances are the horses are too. When you are scared, it feeds into the horse’s fear. By using the horse as your mirror, it can help you identify how you are really feeling and projecting yourself to others.
Horses do not have the ability to lie or manipulate. Therefore, many clients find them trustworthy. Because so many triggers are related to our relationships with others, learning how to trust and communicate with a horse can build valuable interpersonal skills. If you incorrectly ask a horse to do something, the result is usually that the horse does not do what you intended. If you ask correctly, almost every time you will get the expected result. Horses also have clear boundaries and do not hesitate to let you know when those have been crossed. This can help clients to understand how to define and enforce the boundaries they need in order to be successful in recovery.
Positive interactions with horses can boost self-esteem and self-realization. Depending on the type of activity, it can also foster teamwork and improve social skills. These outcomes can help reduce isolation, which is often a byproduct of addiction.
The benefits of equine therapy also apply to other mental health issues, such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Because we utilize equine therapy in addition to traditional therapy, groups, and holistic therapies, it provides one more of many tools our clients can use to be successful in recovery. We think the horses like it too!