Even outside the addiction management field, horseback riding is commonly viewed as a calming, therapeutic exercise. When used to help recovering addicts, it has a special name: equine therapy. At first, it was used to help patients recover from traumatic physical injuries. In the last two decades or so, it’s been used mostly for behavioral purposes, most notably substance abuse disorders. Animals have been used therapeutically for as long as formal therapy has exited — a long, long time. You don’t have to be an animal person to understand or reap their benefits.
There are different kinds of equine therapy, each of which combines the use of horses with a different form of therapy. Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) works differently than equine-assisted learning therapy (EAL). Psychiatrists have found that horses can help recovering addicts build confidence with communication, problem solving, social interaction, and facing fears. People of all ages seem to benefit from equine therapy equally, though some age groups are much more likely to seek out equine therapy than others. These days, it’s big among adolescents.
Horses probably help for the same reason dogs are known to help: they’re social animals. They have distinct personalities just like people, and they can be stubborn or defiant just like people. For patients residing in rehab centers, these animals can be a good stepping stone for dealing with people again once they’re released. Simply caring for another creature, especially such a needy one can create a ripple effect. Patients have to be the responsible one in the relationship. This awards them a feeling of empowerment, self-esteem, patience, and compassion that extend onto themselves and others.
Equine therapists don’t just facilitate the act of horseback riding, nor are they comparable to your typical groom or stable-person. Therapists who run the programs have been licensed and certified specifically to do so by the The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EGALA). The staff are doctors first and animal handlers second. This is what separates innovative treatment programs like these from those which are more focused on the activity itself.
Equine therapy is also used to help treat disorders and illnesses that are not drug-related (obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, etc. Either way, it’s best utilized alongside other treatment modalities: like cognitive-behavioral therapy, experiential therapy, or medication programs.
Equine therapy is an increasingly popular form of treatment, and for good reason. If you’re interested in learning more about it, contact Hired Power at 800-910-9299.
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