Did you know that horses can be used for more than a leisurely ride on the beach at sunset with a loved one? It’s true! Horses have been used by therapists for generations to assist in the mental, emotional, and physical health of those in need. This therapy is often referred to as equine therapy or horse therapy for the uninitiated. Let’s examine this fascinating world of how horses are bringing hope and healing to a suffering population. Who knows… perhaps a few sessions of equine therapy may be just was the therapist orders for you!
Let’s review a few terms found in the world of equine therapeutic interventions. The first is known as EAP or equine-assisted psychotherapy. According to “PsychologyToday.com” (2023), “Equine-assisted psychotherapy, sometimes referred to as EAP, EAT, or “equine therapy,” refers to activities with horses that are conducted while being supervised by a mental health professional and a horse trainer or other equine specialist,” (Equine-Assisted Therapy). This is a professional certification earned by completing academic rigor and intern hours. It is a mental health certificate program, not just a group of nice cowboys giving rides to special needs children. This is truly therapeutic riding at its finest.
But what is the good that comes from riding a horse that cannot be found in other therapeutic ways? Great question! Did you know that equine therapy, or EAP, can be useful for those suffering from conditions such as MS or CP? According to Jan Brinn (2013), “The movement of the horse as a person is riding at a simple walk gives them balance, coordination and self-confidence. The movement and unique walking gait of a horse or pony most closely resembles that of a human. Therefore, when a person is riding a horse, the rhythm and motion is therapeutic; the body gains strength through its adjustment to the horse’s gait,” (para. 2). From imbalance to balance simply by riding a horse rather than spending months working with a physical therapist in a sterile office. Sounds pretty good to me!
Let’s move on to another term in the world of EAP. According to “American Hippotherapy Association, Inc.” (2023), “The term hippotherapy refers to how occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language pathology professionals use evidence-based practice and clinical reasoning in the purposeful manipulation of equine movement as a therapy tool to engage sensory, neuromotor and cognitive systems to promote functional outcomes,” (What is Hippotherapy). Imagine the joy of hearing your autistic child expressing joy with words for the first time. Priceless! There is a transformation in using a majestic horse who speaks in a language of power and peace to the heart, mind, and soul of an individual separated from others because of a language neither spoken nor understood.
Interested in moving from an avid reader to an active provider? Good! There are two other terms we need to consider. EFMH, or equine facilitated mental health, is provided by licensed therapists certified in EAP. ES, or equine specialists, are individuals certified in providing services under a governing authority, such as Eagala (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association). According to the standards set for by “Eagla” (2023), “In order to become certified as an Eagala practitioner individuals must take the Fundamentals of the Eagala Model Training Course. The training course is broken into 3 different types of activities: discussions, demonstrations and experiences,” (The Fundamentals of the Eagla Training Course). Sounds like a lot, but ask yourself if you would go to a doctor who did not complete college nor a residency program even for a minor cold. Training and certifications ensure proper application of equine therapeutic services. If you want to be of help, learn how to properly apply the knowledge to those in need.
So, that is an overview of EAP. The great news is that there are providers in every state in the U.S. If you, or someone you love, is in need of a therapeutic intervention that allows for the great outdoors, the feeling of power and peace, and a natural alternative to modern medicine, why not try EAP as a means to a wonderful end? Hope to see you or your loved ones in a saddle soon!
American Hippotherapy Association, Inc.. (2023). https://www.americanhippotherapyassociation.org/what-is-hippotherapy
Brinn, Jan (2019). Michigan State University. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/the_science_behind_equine_assisted_activities_and_therapeutic_riding_part_i
Psychologytoday.com. (2023). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/equine-assisted-therapy
Whalen CN, Case-Smith J. Therapeutic effects of horseback riding therapy on gross motor function in children with cerebral palsy: a systematic review. Phys Occup Ther Pediatr. 2012 Aug;32(3):229-42. doi: 10.3109/01942638.2011.619251. Epub 2011 Nov 29. PMID: 22122355.
Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy or usually just “therapy,” is a form of treatment aimed at relieving emotional distress and mental health problems. Provided by any of a variety of trained professionals—psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or licensed counselors—it involves examining and gaining insight into life choices and difficulties faced by individuals, couples, or families. Therapy sessions refer to structured meetings between a licensed provider and a client with a goal of improving some aspect of their life.
What is Hippotherapy
Learn more about the science behind equine-assisted therapy and what benefits riders take from the experience.
Equine-assisted psychotherapy, sometimes referred to as EAP, EAT, or “equine therapy,” refers to activities with horses that are conducted while being supervised by a mental health professional and a horse trainer or other equine specialist. Equine therapy has been used to treat anxiety, ADHD, eating disorders, addiction, depression, and many other mental health conditions, and, in addition to targeting symptoms of those disorders, is theorized to help patients build confidence, self-awareness, and empathy.
By Darrin Erb, MSC/LMFT (and Future Equine Therapist)