Like most horse owners, you probably love interacting with horses. And, whether we realize it or not, we receive both mental and physical benefits from caring for and riding horses.
Scientists have documented these benefits. Studies show that people working with horses experience decreased blood pressure, lower stress levels and reduced feelings of tension, anxiety and anger. In addition, studies show you gain feelings of self-esteem, empowerment, patience and trust. All in all, these are some very powerful results.
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These results can be so powerful, that a relatively new form of equine-based therapy uses them to help people with emotional and physical challenges. Equine-Assisted Therapy is used to treat patients challenged with everything from cerebral palsy and autism, to drug and alcohol dependency and post-traumatic stress syndrome.
The therapy takes advantage of the mental and physical exercise that working with a horse can provide. Mentally or emotionally, interacting with a horse means dealing with and working around its moods, attitudes and personality. Physically, caring and riding a horse provides a chance to improve muscle strength, along with balance and coordination.
For patients who struggle with social interactions, working with a horse gives them much-needed practice. The bottom line? When done correctly, it can be easier to create a healthy, successful working relationship with a horse, than it is with most people.
In doing so, a person can also develop or improve their responsibility, self-confidence and self-respect. They may also learn how to bring trust to relationships by learning to trust the horse during therapy. After a patient with emotional/social issues practices on a horse, they get help translating their success into interacting with people.
Working with a horse provides exercise for individuals who need help developing fine motor skills (in the small muscles of the fingers, toes, wrists, etc.) and gross motor skills (large muscles in the legs, arms and torso). Youngsters with different forms of cerebral palsy and autism can benefit from horse riding as it helps them develop strength, balance and muscle control.
Many patients deal with a variety of issues – with challenges on both the emotional and the physical sides of life. The benefit of Equine-Assisted Therapy is that it provides therapeutic help in both areas. In many cases, the experience for patients doesn’t “feel” like therapy, because they enjoy working with the horses so much. And, that is something most horse owners can definitely relate to.
Opposition has also been raised against animal therapy, and those claims can be found here: