Horse Therapy - How and Why it Works
Updated: Jan 31, 2022
Horse therapy, often referred as Equine Therapy or Equine Assisted Therapy has been around for years, however recently due to its high success rate, it is becoming more widely known, accepted and "prescribed" by both the medical and holistic communities.
Horse therapy is much more than spending time with a large, strong, and beautiful animal, it's all about relationship building and connection. A client will learn the basics fundamentals and then progress with each session, into more in-depth experiences. There are many techniques that are used, some include mounting/riding, while the majority do not.
Horses and humans have limbic systems remarkably similar to each other and we can see similar emotional patterns in parenting behavior, bonding, imprinting and socialization of young and everyday social community bonds. The structures and interacting areas of the limbic system are involved in motivation, emotion, learning, and memory.
Because of these similarities within the limbic system, working with horses from a therapeutic standpoint allows the horses to relate to the limbic system in humans. Since the horse does not have a largely developed neocortex, it enables them to come from a nonjudgmental place reflecting others behaviors. How they act and respond is somewhat like a mirror, reflecting back to us our state of mind, mood and feelings, resulting in a true picture of what we are feeling at the moment.
Seeing the limbic system in action is amazing and often blatantly obvious. We had a couple of women come out to NeuroBalanced, located on Back Forty Farms, who wanted to feed our horses some delicious apples. Although it wasn't obvious to people, these women were not in a good space emotionally, and one was was experiencing anger when they walked toward the horses in the field. Several of the horses walked towards them and then stopped abruptly. Even with a large bag of apples awaiting them, they wouldn't approach them as their limbic system picked up on negative emotions. Since the horses wouldn't come eat the apples, that upset the women even more which in turn made the horses move away further, and eventually they just left the apples on the ground.
Horses respond to what is happening in the moment – based on comfort and safety. They do not live in the past. Being present in your own body while experiencing high limbic system activity allows you to associate a new positive feeling, which will allow the healing process to occur. A person who has experienced trauma in the past may have a set of preconceived patterns of how to respond to certain situations in life.
Since horses are a prey animal, they often times live in the "fight or flight" mode. The natural state of rest within the horse species combined with being nonjudgmental, creates a healing space of peace and trust. This allows amazing changes to take place – a way for a person to safely create new neurological pathways of how to respond to certain emotional patterns. Trauma, anxiety, and other ailments will block these pathways in our brains, causing us to live in the past or repeat negative and self-digressing patterns or behavior.
"Moving a person from trauma to healing requires restructuring of emotional response. This must come in the form of new experiences that engage and soothe, or “regulate” this sensitive limbic region of the brain.” - Human Equine Alliance
A horse can help people identify their true feelings. We often times show others a strong sense of well-being or put on a front, and often it goes unnoticed by our family, friends, or co-workers. Try this with a horse and you will quickly be reminded of how you are truly feeling. You cannot fool a horse by putting on a smile or front as they sense your true inner feelings.
A horse cannot lie to us or manipulate us, they don't have the ability to do so, and they are gentle and very honest. They remind us to breath, relax, and be in the right space to open our mind up allowing it to heal.
With our equine therapy programs we have had amazing results for clients ranging from combat wounded veterans to autistic children. Our goal is to help others overcome obstacles in a safe and peaceful environment, allowing them to utilize the tools they learn in everyday life and situations.
For more information or to schedule a free-consultation, click here.