Source: Community Counselling Solutions
When you hear the word therapy, many people’s initial thoughts involve the stereotype of sitting indoors on a lounge with their back turned to the therapist. Whilst traditionally, therapy is done indoors, in recent years therapists in Australia have been mixing things up and taking therapy outdoors in the form of equine assisted therapy, better known as horse therapy.
Equine therapy is based on helping client’s express themselves and interact with others in different ways, be that horse or human. There is no horse riding in equine therapy; all the interaction is done through ground work. Clients are assigned to and engage with trained horses to carry out horsemanship duties such as brushing their mane or cleaning their hooves. The aim for the client is to gain the horse’s trust, which in turn has been known to assist with building confidence and social skills in the client.
Additionally, it enhances communication skills as clients are required to direct the horse through obstacles during the session. This is particularly useful for client’s who struggle to communicate through traditional therapy methods. Whilst many client’s experience initial fear when encountering an animal with such size and power, many report that these feelings have been known to subside within minutes.
So, why horses?
Studies have found that horses can pick up on a human heart beat from as much as four feet away, with the low frequency of a horse’s heart rate in turn reducing stress when humans interact (Baldwin & McCraty, 2014). Equine therapy offers mindfulness and relaxation through the relationship between client and horse. And unlike domestic pets such as dogs and cats, horses are social animals that react immediately to changes in the environment such as moods, threats or attitudes, and positive or negative facial expressions (Smith, Proops, Grounds, Wathan, & McComb, 2016). They are honest creatures who aren’t afraid to give off immediate feedback to the client.
“Horses have finely tuned senses such as hearing, smell and touch. Horses can also sense our emotional state, even when we are not aware of it. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is not about horsemanship or dominating the horses nor about riding, but about becoming a guest member of the herd. Horses will then naturally reflect what is going on for that person emotionally at this time. The experience occurs without words and therefore there is no risk of miscommunication via spoken language.” – Dr Anja Kriegeskotten, Australian psychiatrist and equine specialist.
Equine therapy is being used to treat a variety of mental health issues, most commonly depression and anxiety, but also includes post-traumatic stress disorder, addictions, major life changes such as death or divorce, and eating disorders. Many programs have been set up aiming to treat at risk adolescents, ADHD, autism, and war veterans.
Take a look at the following video and have your say – do you think that non-traditional therapy methods are just as effective as talk therapy?
Baldwin, A. & McCraty, R. (2014). Heart-to-Heart Communication With Horses. Retrieved 6 July, 2016, from https://www.heartmath.org/resources/downloads/heart-heart-communication-horses/?su=hmi1
Smith, A. V., Proops, L., Grounds, K., Wathan, J., & McComb, K. (2016). Functionally relevant responses to human facial expressions of emotion in the domestic horse (Equus caballus). Biology letters, 12(2), 20150907.
The Equine Psychotherapy Institute. (2016). The Equine Psychotherapy Institute. Retrieved 6 July, 2016, from http://www.equinepsychotherapy.net.au/