Caring for and riding a horse comes with a slew of benefits. It improves physical health, encourages problem-solving, and provides a challenge to help the rider grow as a person. But there are other, lesser-discussed benefits associated with horseback riding and caring for these majestic creatures. A person’s mental health state can be drastically improved via the addition of horse therapy into their life. It may surprise you to learn that horses can help ease anxiety and help a person to overcome the mental health effects associated with experiencing trauma.
Not only that, but horse therapy has also been associated with effectively easing the minds of those living with ADHD, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse issues, and more.
We know that that sounds like an impossibly tall order to fill from the back of a horse, but it really is true. It even has a name: therapeutic riding. The idea may seem dubious at best, especially if you’ve never had a relationship with a horse as its rider and/or caregiver, but there is some serious merit behind the notion. More and more equine lovers are harnessing the power of therapeutic riding in conjunction with other mental health assistance like cognitive behavioral therapy and medication therapy.
Who is a Good Candidate for Therapeutic Riding?
Anybody can benefit from getting on a horse and riding, but those suffering with mental health ailments stand to gain just a bit more from the experience. In some ways, it is not unlike having a pet that you turn to during the tough times. The same way that talking to and training your dog can provide you some fulfillment and peace, horses can be an important part of a person’s healing process.
Sure, it might feel intimidating to have a 1,000+ pound creature as an intrinsic element of your therapy, but equine-based therapy will acquaint you with a mild-mannered horse that the therapist will determine is a good fit and demeanor for this purpose. Therapy horses, like therapy dogs, are trained professionals with an even temperament that’s perfect for this job. Even if you are wary of horses due to their impressive power and size, you can get into this form of therapy if you’re dedicated to giving it an honest try.
What Does Therapeutic Riding Teach Patients?
All forms of therapy are intended to impart certain attitudes and changes that a person can make to increase their quality of life. Of course, it is all guided by the patient themselves. But when the patient is receptive to the treatment that they’ve enrolled in, the benefits are numerous. Therapeutic riding teaches many important things to riders, which we’ll detail below.
To ride a horse safely, one must be able to solve problems quickly as the problems relate to their environment. Panicking can cause a mishap on the riding trail and there are many prospective hurdles and challenges to overcome while riding. A calm horseback riding experience allows an individual to apply problem-solving techniques to their circumstances in a fairly safe fashion. This bolsters confidence in those who take to horseback riding.
Horses are well known for being soulful and sensitive creatures, two traits that help individuals who get close to them become more acquainted with the concept of conscientious empathy. Through talking to, caring for and riding upon a horse, the rider learns how to communicate delicately and peacefully with an animal that is impacted by the emotions of the people around them.
Many mental health ailments are marked by impulsivity, which can be disruptive in day-to-day life. In addition to teaching problem-solving skills, horseback riding teaches the individual to think carefully about their next actions. It’s hard not to apply a degree of impulse control when you’re astride a creature that can reach a ton in weight.
Many people struggle to define their own boundaries and assert themselves when under any kind of pressure or unfamiliar circumstance. Riding on the back of a horse forces the individual to assert themselves in a fashion that only horseback riding can. To have a successful ride, the rider must be able to assert their will on the horse, determining where to go and at what pace.
Why are Horses Such Great Therapy Animals?
Of course, there are other animals that can be highly helpful in a person’s recovery from trauma and coping with their mental health symptoms. But horses provide a unique experience because of the way that they respond to the emotions, tone and behaviors of their handlers. Those who choose therapeutic horseback riding may find themselves more comfortable opening up to a horse than they would to a friend, family member or human mental health professional. A horse’s emotive face can make a person feel heard – and without bias or judgement.
It is during these interactions that humans can become more self-aware. A horse’s responses to their tone or actions can help a person to identify traits of their own behavior – positive or negative. This non-verbal feedback allows for reflection without any outside words to influence what is said or done next. In some ways, this is the most genuine way to communicate with another creature and oneself at the same time.
At some point, the patient may decide that interacting with and confiding in their equine companion has allowed them to get acquainted with their own vulnerability. The change within the individual might even be enough to allow the patient to communicate with a human therapist in a more honest way, without so many walls thrown up in the way.
Therapeutic Riding is Great for Mental Health
Horses provide incredible companionship, but their roles in our lives can extend far beyond the recreational sphere. Within the context of therapy, horses can change – and even save – the lives of humans who embark on horseback riding adventures. If you give it a try for yourself, you might be astonished at how transformative it can be.