Using Horses as Therapy Animals
Improving quality of life through horsemanship
Truly, there is nothing quite so satisfying as rubbing your cheek against the warm, fragrant sleekness of a horse’s summer coat or the soft fuzziness of their winter hair. The benefits of the horse to the human soul have transcended our long relationship with the equine, but it is only in recent decades that we’ve begun to understand how profoundly horses can improve our quality of life.
For millions of Americans, therapy animals are a critical part of daily existence, affording them greater independence, happiness, and alleviation of countless physical and emotional struggles. Horses, too, can provide their human counterparts with powerful emotional, physical, and social support – allowing those with a wide variety of challenges to thrive in new ways.
Horses offer a wide array of learning opportunities that can help those with emotional, mental, and physical special needs grow, connect, be more physically active, and heal. Horses are incredibly sensitive and honest. They will mirror yourself back to you in unexpected and unedited ways. Learning to see oneself through the eyes of such a large, powerful, and intelligent creature can be an eye opening experience for all, but offers a non-judgmental reflection on the self for those who may struggle with other interactions.
Routine horse care requires dedicated work. It’s both physical and delicate and can aid in the development both balance and strength, which is critical for children and adults of all abilities. Learning to care for an animal creates a significant source of accomplishment and pride and can serve as groundwork leading towards taking on other responsibilities and improving self-care. Furthermore, when riders are invested in the daily care of their horse, they have a greater appreciation for their horse’s needs and personality, teaching empathy and self/other awareness.
For children and adults with special needs, mood disorders, and more, horseback riding can offer a powerful release. To begin, seeing the world from atop a horse offers a profound shift in perspective. Where one may feel powerless or meek from the ground, astride, a rider sees the world from a new position of power. Learning to work with a horse and master equestrian skills requires problem solving, sensitivity, attention, and confidence – all skills that that serve to empower riders and help them learn how to compromise and succeed.
While even a few hours in a stable can be therapeutic, it is through repeated interactions with horses and riding that can provide lasting support for children and adults who may find social situations or relating to other people difficult. As Winston Churchill famously said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a [person]”. While horses can serve as therapy for nearly everyone, this is especially true for those who experience a wide variety of emotional and mental challenges in their lives.