Equine Therapy

Horses in the fieldCivilizations have recognized equine therapy as a highly effective therapy tool that is beneficial and they have used it for centuries. It was first recognized in ancient Greece around 600 BC in the writings of Orbasis in ancient Lydia. In 1946, Scandinavia introduced equine therapy after an outbreak of poliomyelitis. Now, people utilize it around the world. According to Winston Churchill, “There is nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse.”

Why is equine therapy so effective? The therapy works for children and adults who need extra support, but who do not trust humans enough to reach the level of vulnerability needed for healing. Horses are effective with therapy due to their lack of judgment and reduced ability to be intimidated by the person. A horse does not care what the person is wearing or their outward appearance. The horse will respond/react to the person’s internal feelings. The child or adult who can deceive a person in a therapy session will not deceive a horse. The horse “reads” a person’s emotions rather than outward appearance. You cannot fool a horse.

During the therapy session, the therapist will quietly monitor the interaction between horse and child and can tell more about what the child is feeling by the horse’s reaction. The horse is considered a “mirror” of the internal emotions of the child. The horse may stand quietly and interact by placing their head low and against the child, comforting them. Or the horse may react by becoming tense and alert. The horse may be wary of the child and step away from them. These reactions from the horse indicate sadness or something chaotic or extremely emotional happening. The therapist can then encourage the child to focus on their emotions and therapy can be adjusted.

Often, a young person will be more willing to talk about what they are feeling if they are talking to the horse. I have witnessed one young man, who would not share his feelings with counselors or therapists, begin to vent to a horse with the therapist sitting on the other side of the horse out of sight. The young man knew the therapist was there, but felt more “safe” with the horse in between them and “listening”. He connected strongly with the horse and trusted him enough to begin healing. The effectiveness of equine therapy is life changing for those who utilize it.

Here at B&GH, Miss Amanda and I have developed a horse lesson program to teach the kids how to interact with horses moving from grooming to handling them on the ground then tacking them, and eventually riding. We are working toward certification as Equine Therapists and plan to develop an equine therapy program for our B&GH kids. I feel this program would bring a new level of therapy for our trauma-filled kids to be willing to reach out and find the hope of healing through the horses and therapists. This program would work in partnership with all other forms of therapy we have available now and, I feel, would provide an opportunity for our kids to heal and open wide their future. A future full of hope and willingness to reach out and grab what waits for them.

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Rhonda Harvey is a residential counselor at Boys & Girls Homes of North Carolina.

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