Equine-Assisted Therapy

So I have a confession to make.

Today something unexpected happened, and I was trying to figure out how I could write about it and still focus on health.

Well, it turns out it wasn’t hard at all. Equine-assisted therapy is our topic and through the pictures, you will see the newest members of our farm.

Equine Therapy

Meet, Ms. Maggie, and little baby, Sylvia. Not only are ponies, horses, and other animals therapeutic to people with conditions, they bring a plethora of joy to everyone who encounters them. Given people actually like animals ;).

What is Equine-Assisted Therapy?

Equine-assisted therapy (EAT) has been used by medical professionals such as occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, psychologists, social workers, and recreational therapists.


When Was It Introduced?

“Equine therapy dates back to the times when horses were used for therapeutic riding in ancient Greek literature. Orbasis of ancient Lydia documented the therapeutic value of riding in 600 B.C. In 1946, Equine Therapy was introduced in Scandinavia after an outbreak of poliomyelitis.

Therapeutic Riding was introduced to the United States and Canada in 1960 with the formation of the Community Association of Riding of the Disabled (CARD). In the United States riding for the disabled developed as a form of recreation and as a means of motivation for education, as well as its therapeutic benefits.

Animals such as elephants, dolphins, dogs, and cats have also been used for therapeutic purposes. However, horses became the most popular animal in therapy to use because they give immediate feedback to the handler or rider’s actions. Horses also have the ability to mirror the feelings of the handler or rider. A horses’ large and intimidating appearance forces an individual to gain trust around them.” -The Anxiety Treatment Center

Benefits of equine-assisted therapy
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The picture shows a brief overview of different ways in which horse or equine therapy can help. However, I want to take a deeper look.

Equine-Assisted Therapy Benefits

#1 Mental Health and Happiness

According to mentalhealthfirstaid.org, 5 percent of adults (18 or older) experience a mental illness in any one year, equivalent to 43.8 million people. Of adults in the United States with any mental disorder in a one-year period, 14.4 percent have one disorder, 5.8 percent have two disorders and 6 percent have three or more.

With such a large number due to people suffering from ADD, Cerebral Palsy, Dementia, Anxiety, Autism, Depression, and more, there is a great need for natural therapies.

Equine therapy is proven to help with these symptoms and diagnoses, and also is known to build confidence, trust, perspective, and social skills.  Since the horses have similar behaviors with humans, such as social and responsive behaviors, it is easy for patients to create a connection with the horse.

#2 Focus and Behavior

Learning boundaries is something every child goes through. However, kids are impulsive, and some don’t take correction as well as others. There are places like Home On The Range for boys, where they use horses along with a work therapy to teach this.

Self-efficiency is a need in children that is hard at times to communicate to parents. We all want independence but before that can come there is a learning period. Animals help to calm and correct a person’s focus and behavior. This is due to the reaction of the animal and also taking one’s thoughts away from self and focusing it on the care and responsibility of another creature.

#3 PTSD and TBI

horse therapy

Traumatic brain injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are skyrocketing in the US, partially due to military and war. With soldiers coming back, there is a great need for healing and help. Equine-assisted therapy helps people to heal, deal with abuse issues, trust and encourages one to keep things in perspective.

There is a lot of blame, and unhappiness, when we don’t think the ones closest to us will understand, but an animal always will. This is one reason you will see a soldier or other person love on their dog, horse, or other animal but be cold and unsociable to another human being.

If you know someone who suffers from PTSD or TBI, I would suggest getting them a dog, take them riding, or encourage them to sign up for some kind of program that deals with equine therapy.

#4 Physical Healing

When people become physically injured, their psyche is also affected. “Will, I ever walk again?” “I’m broken.” These are two statements of many that a person feels and goes through after an accident. Physical therapy is painful, but it’s when people push past the mental and physical pain that results happen.

Horses and the movement of their bodies engage a person. Even if a person doesn’t feel the action, they see the action, which tricks their brain into thinking their limbs are moving. Muscle memory comes into play for patients that have been in a hospital bed for a long time and need to learn how to walk again. Your body moves with the horse when you are on its back, and that helps to build strength.

Studies show even after a few treatments/rides the patient is more optimistic that they will recover, both physically and mentally.

#5 Helps Improve Speech

Speech and Language Pathologists have been using hippotherapy as a strategy in a comprehensive treatment approach, but it is not only through a SLP that this can be accomplished. Hippotherapy uses a horse to accomplish traditional speech, language, cognitive, and swallowing goals. Carefully modulated, rhythmic, balanced equine movement offers an effective means of addressing speech and language deficits through facilitation of the physiological systems that support speech and language function.


#6 Strength and Balance

Gaining Strength and Balance on a horse
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“Balance and core strength are challenging for quite a few people. Daily activities in modern society do not necessarily challenge these muscle groups, and many people have chronic conditions that affect key muscles in the neck, torso, and legs.

Loss of balance can harm someone’s quality of life and place limitations on his or her activities. Unfortunately, a lack of core strength and balance may suddenly become evident in the form of a fall. This can have devastating and sometimes fatal results. Many people turn to yoga, tai chi, functional strength training, and resistance exercises, but can equine-assisted therapy help a person achieve improved balance and increased core strength?

Physical therapy incorporating horses, also called hippotherapy or therapeutic riding, may help adults and children to improve control and strength of muscles if the person has a neuromuscular disability, neurological impairment, or weakness in balance muscles. Even people who use wheelchairs for mobility may find equine-assisted therapy to be useful in increasing muscle control.

Examples of conditions in which hippotherapy tends to be utilized include Down’s syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and cerebral palsy. Adaptive devices, such as a bar on the reins, may help someone to compensate and steer with one hand if necessary. This allows the person to achieve greater independence, which can also have a positive effect on one’s psychological health.

According to a small clinical study cited in the Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy, horse-assisted therapy may have a positive effect on balance in seniors. Results indicated that older adults who participated in physical therapy with horses achieved improvements in several areas when compared to the control group, including:

  • balance while sitting
  • moving from a seated to standing posture
  • stability in walking
  • changes in walking pattern

Another small study published in Physical Therapy looked at children who had documented mild to moderate balance problems. Children in the study received two 45-minute equine-assisted therapy sessions each week for six weeks. These children achieved statistically significant improvement in all measurements of the Pediatric Balance Scale and Activities Scale for Kids-Performance upon completion of the sessions when compared to results before beginning therapy.” -Fittips4life.com

#7 Motor Skills and Occupational Therapy

“Hippotherapy involves utilizing the sensory-motor aspects of horses to achieve therapeutic goals such as improving sensory processing to tolerate touch and motor plan sequential movements.” -blog.therapro.com

“The term “occupation” refers to what humans “occupy” themselves within daily life. For a child, daily occupations may include dressing, feeding, handwriting, focusing at school. Occupational therapy helps people be as independent and successful as possible in their everyday activities or occupations. Occupational therapists provide individualized evaluations to determine goals, customized interventions to improve the individual’s ability to perform daily activities, and goal assessment. Some of the most common skills we target are fine motor skills such as handwriting, gross motor skills like coordinating a jumping jack and sensory integration skills such as focusing and regulating emotions.” –kidsandhorses.org 

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), “Occupational therapists help people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do. Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills, and providing support for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes.

Ending Notes

Sylvia our filly who heals
#heatherearles #herbnwisdom #naturalliving #podcaster #author #healthblogger #militarywife #farmgirl #horses

Adults and children alike can share in the benefits and healing that horses bring. Just take a look at Sylvia, our newest filly. Although you can’t ride her yet, she brings healing and joy by letting you pet her, feed her, and watch her kick around the pasture. Even our 21-month-old has developed a bond with her in a matter of a few days.

If you have pictures of you and your healing pet, I would love to see them in the comments below. Until next time, stay healthy and free.

Heather Earles
Heather Earles

Heather is married to a retired Special Forces Officer, and they live on a farm with their four children. She is an established author, a stay-at-home mother, and an advocate for healthy living. She publishes a weekly blog and podcast (Herb ‘N Wisdom™) and writes for a local newspaper to aid and inspire others.


Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy Sep/Oct 2011 article by Thais B. Araujo et. al. “Effect of equine-assisted therapy on the postural balance of the elderly

Physical Therapy May 2012 article by Debbie J. Silkwood-Sherer et. al. “Hippotherapy: An Intervention to Habilitate Balance Deficits in Children With Movement Disorders: A Clinical Trial” 

Physiotherapy Theory & Practice January 2005 article by Ann Hammer et. al. “Evaluation of Therapeutic Riding (Sweden)/Hippotherapy (United States). A single-subject experimental design study replicated in eleven patients with multiple sclerosis.

Therapro June 2017 article by Barbara A. Smith. “Hippotherapy Activities that Help Build Hand Skills

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