There are many types of therapy available to teens to improve emotional health and recovery, but one you may not be familiar with is equine therapy. What is this type of therapy, and how can it help your teen?
Horses may not be the first thing that you think of when you think of therapy. But you probably know that spending time with animals can have therapeutic value, and that applies to horses as well as smaller animals like dogs or cats.
5 Benefits of Equine Therapy
Equine therapy, or horse therapy, involves more than just riding horses. A lot of activities related to caring for horses, have a therapeutic benefit. These acts include:
- Haltering and leading
Take a look at some of the things that you should know about the potential benefits of equine therapy facilitated by a mental health professional.
1. Relaxation and Stress Relief
It’s a busy world with a lot of pressures, and that can make it difficult for anyone to relax. For people suffering from certain mental health problems, like anxiety, it can be even more difficult to let go of day-to-day stressors and really be able to relax, take a step back, or clear their minds. But equine therapy can be a useful way for people who need to relax to free their minds.
The activities involved with caring for and riding a horse require concentration. And when you’re concentrating on the horse, you’re not thinking about the other things that might be causing stress and anxiety. You may not even realize that you’ve been able to let go of your worries, but once your therapy session is over, you’ll feel better and enjoy more clarity than you did beforehand.
2. Self-Esteem Boost
People who are suffering from low self-esteem can receive a considerable boost from from working with any animals. Unlike humans, animals can’t mock, criticize, or even accidentally make comments that result in hurt feelings.
People who have physical or mental disabilities may often be left out of activities or be made to feel as if they’re less capable than other people, but when they spend time working with horses who respond to their efforts with affection, they can feel a sense of accomplishment and pride, knowing that the animal appreciates their efforts.
Interactions with animals are often much easier to understand than interactions with humans. Animals don’t lie, misdirect, or attempt to camouflage their emotions. People who have trouble interacting with other people may feel relief at spending time with an animal who appreciates and accepts them for just what they are in the moment. Working with horses can also help a person develop a sense of trust and giving them a relationship where they can feel safe being vulnerable.
3. Physical Health
It’s important not to ignore the many physical health benefits of equine therapy. Although physical health and mental health are often treated separately and addressed by separate health professionals, it’s important to remember that patients are whole people and that physical and mental health are closely intertwined and often affect each other. Poor physical health can cause or exacerbate mental health problems, and doing things that improve physical health can often have a positive effect on mental health as well.
Horseback riding uses muscles that may not commonly be used in other contexts, or may not be used in quite the same way, so it’s an opportunity to strengthen those muscles. Horseback riding also requires dexterity, balance, and strength, so this therapy helps to build those skills. It’s helpful for improving joint mobility and spine strength as well.
It’s not just muscle strength that can be improved by horseback riding and working with horses. Like many types of physical exercise:
- Horseback riding is good for cardiovascular health and also burns calories.
- As an outdoor activity, equine therapy offers sunshine and fresh air, both good for physical health.
As therapy progresses and the person in experiential therapy sees more and more of the physical health benefits, they may start to feel better mentally and emotionally as a result.
Of course, people who are undergoing equine therapy should be accompanied and monitored by a professional in horse care. This is true, especially if the person is not familiar with horses themselves. But horseback riding is typically a solo activity, and grooming, feeding, and leading a horse can also be done by a single person. Even people with physical disabilities can often ride or care for horses with the right accommodations.
This means that equine therapy gives people a chance to be alone with the horse and their thoughts, which can be useful for people who are looking for a quiet, meditative activity. Successfully riding a horse and completing tasks associated with caring for a horse can also give people a feeling of independence and self-sufficiency. Caring for another living being is a great way to feel that you yourself are contributing something useful to the world.
5. A Setting that Facilitates Openness
In-office therapy can be important and beneficial, but a psychologist’s office can feel formal, stifling, and artificial to many people. Some people, especially children and teenagers, may feel intimidated by a doctor’s office type of setting and may be less likely to open up and express their real thoughts and feelings.
However, equine therapy takes place outdoors, in a more natural setting.
- Surrounded by animals and nature, people may feel more at ease and therefore more likely to open up about their struggles and life circumstances. A natural setting can also help people to be more mindful.
- It requires participants to be aware of their surroundings and in tune with the animal that they’re working with.
Developing these skills helps the person learn to broaden their senses and use them more fully, and they can put those abilities to use in other areas of their lives as well, increasing their ability to think and act mindfully in many different types of circumstances.
Given the numerous benefits of equine therapy, it’s no surprise that it’s becoming a more common form of therapy that’s used in many places around the world. Equine therapy facilitated by a skilled and experienced mental health professional can be used to help people who are suffering from any number of different mental health difficulties.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.