What is this “equine assisted therapy” thing anyhow? I get this question a lot. “Oh, what a nice thing you do.” “Therapy for horses?” “I have a horse that loves to stand & be groomed.” As I go through attempts to explain, I’ve realized if I start with “therapy for people using horses” it gets a closer visual going more quickly.
The ancient Greeks get credit for figuring it out first. They would have their soldiers that were injured in battle ride horses as part of their rehab. More recently people in Europe started incorporating riding into physical therapy work in the 50’s and 60’s, it started becoming a therapy model in the US in the 70’s. Incorporating horses into the mental health field is more recent, starting in the last 20 years or so.
So, what is our version of equine therapy here at Summit Equestrian? It depends is the short answer. Some of our clients are working on physical therapy goals. Did you know that in riding a horse you are using many of the same muscles you use when you walk? We can strengthen & stretch, tone & work core muscles more effectively than any machine on horseback. The front-to-back, side-to-side & up-and-down motion combination combined of the horse’s movement with gross motor and fine motor activities is a lot more fun than what it would take in a gym too.
While riding it is impossible to not get the emotional benefits as well. The perspective astride a 1,200-pound team member inspires young and old alike to look beyond their situation, gaining confidence & hope each ride. We work in intellectual goals while riding too. Sequence memory, brain balancing, solving the world’s problems out on a trail ride – we do that every day!
More of our work is done without our feet leaving the ground. In Equine Assisted Learning & Equine Facilitated Counseling we tackle big life challenges head on in an environment that feels different than a therapist office or a classroom. It is not grooming and hugging horses but rather developing a real life, healthy connected relationship with a horse, often fleshing out & working through our patterns & beliefs about ourselves as we go.
Traditional therapy works for most people, but sometimes you get stuck & the words don’t come out. Other people communicate differently & the relational healing that comes from working with horses is more effective than talking out loud. The horses know how to meet us where we are and don’t judge us for our past or appearance. They’ve had centuries to practice being authentic and reading others based on what is going on in the present. This makes horses especially great partners in this work.