Equine Therapy

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equine-therapyAlternative medicine can often provide an effective compliment to mainstream methods of treating substance abuse and addiction. Some people choose to pursue supplemental holistic treatments for a more balanced therapeutic experience, while others do so out of dissatisfaction with traditional treatments. One popular alternative therapy for treating addiction is equine therapy.

What is Equine Therapy?

Equine therapy is defined as any therapeutic method which involves horses in the recovery process, usually in a three-way patient-therapist-horse relationship. Though not a medically established addiction treatment, equine therapy can have many therapeutic benefits.

Research has found a significant correlation between time spent in drug addiction treatment and participation in therapy utilizing horses. Participation in equine therapy for addiction recovery is also associated with treatment completion at greater rates than when no complimentary treatment is opted for.

Treatment duration and treatment completion are two important factors when it comes a patient’s substance use prognosis. Many studies have shown that dropping out of treatment early has similar outcomes for substance use disorder to not attending rehab at all.

What are the Benefits of Equine Therapy?

One of the main reasons why horses provide such a benefit to people in drug or alcohol recovery programs seems to be the emotional relationship between the patient and the horse. Participants often note that the horse not only accepts them for who they are without judgement, but that it also understands them.

Patients often feel that they are able to develop a special form of communication with their horse. They report that, while a horse may not necessarily understand the words that they are saying, the emotional content of their speech is picked up on and responded to.

Because horses are good at mirroring human behavior, they are able to make humans more aware of their own body language and of the emotions that they are expressing through that body language. This often gives patients a sense of power and control over their own behavior. When asked to report on their interactions with horses, patients express feelings of happiness, fun, and calm. Horses seem to have a calming presence, which encourages tranquility and allows patients to experience joy during a time when they otherwise may have trouble doing so.

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Why do Alternative Treatments Work?

Equine therapy also seems to provide those in addiction recovery programs with a much-welcomed change of focus from their usual daily activities. Though their mainstream treatments may be helping them, patients often crave variation and new environments during their recovery. Interacting with and caring for a horse further allows patients to take their mind off other worries by providing an activity that feels useful and productive. Doing something physical and engaging in a meaningful way with a nonjudgmental living creature simply feels good and can provide a powerful mood boost.

Who can Benefit from this Therapy?horse therapy

Some researchers note that young patients are likely good candidates for this alternative treatment. Young people often respond better to treatments in settings which are less verbal and more action-oriented.Treatment with horses may also be a great choice when dealing with patients who are struggling with addiction and certain mental health issues. Anxiety, depression, and poor motivation for recovery all seem to respond well to equine therapy, increasing treatment outcomes for patients with comorbid psychological conditions.

Though not a therapeutic approach many people have heard of, equine therapy is growing in popularity due to its demonstrated success when used as a compliment to conventional addiction treatment. Horses can play important role in the treatment process for many people who are trying to recover from drug or alcohol addiction.


  1. Kern-Godal, A., Brenna, I. H., Kogstad, N., Arnevik, E. A., & Ravndal, E. (2016). Contribution of the patient–horse relationship to substance use disorder treatment: Patients’ experiences. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4904069/
  2. Adams, C., Arratoon, C., Boucher, J., Cartier, G., Chalmers, D., Dell, C. A., . . . Wuttunee, M. (2015, June). The Helping Horse: How Equine Assisted Learning Contributes to the Wellbeing of First Nations Youth in Treatment for Volatile Substance Misuse. Retrieved August 30,2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4716821/

Last updated on April 6th, 2017 at 04:06 pm

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