The role of therapist is no longer just for humans with Ivy-League educations and lots of letters behind their names. These people now share that title with some unique four-legged specialists. Therapy horses are taking center stage as they are used to work with riders of all abilities and needs.
Horsemen and women have long known about the benefits of just being around horses. Lower blood pressure, soothed emotions and calmed nerves are all side effects of time spent at the barn. Studies have shown many horse-related chores can equal a gym workout or even a visit to the therapist.
There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse” – J. Lubbock
What is Equine Therapy?
For those with regular access to horses, a form of equine therapy can be as simple as going to the barn after work. It is possible to wind down just by sitting on the fence watching the horses graze in the field. You don’t even have to touch the horse to improve your mood and create a sense of well-being.
Equine therapy has become more formal in recent years. Structured programs are being created and customized for individuals based on their specific needs. Riders with emotional and physical conditions are benefiting from regular, supervised sessions with the horses. Many medical professionals are starting to recognize the benefits and value of these unconventional therapists.
The Benefits of Therapy Horses
- Physical – Most riders experience some amount of improved balance, flexibility and mobility with regular therapy. For some, frequent sessions in the saddle can even increase their ability to stand or walk as riding improves their overall conditioning. A horse’s natural gait mimics the walking stride of a person which in turn, strengthens and stimulates the rider’s back and leg muscles.
- Accessibility – A mounted rider may now be able to reach places unavailable to them in the past. Mountain and beach trails can be the new open road for these individuals. Being outside in the fresh air is just another healthy benefit to this alternative therapy.
- Socialization – Participating in equine activities connects riders and non-riders alike. Learning to behave in a calm and quiet manner is needed when working with horses. This new attitude and improved skills can then positively affect their social interactions with other people.
- Pride – A sense of accomplishment is a happy side effect of equine therapy. Learning to guide a horse using just your voice and gentle movements is something to be proud of.
- Confidence – The self-assurance gained from sessions with the horses spills over into everyday life. As their confidence grows, many riders will even progress into participating in equine sports.
- Outlook – Having something to look forward to is needed in everyone’s life. The anticipation of that next session with the horses can brighten any rider’s days.
Things to Keep in Mind
- Consult your physician before starting any program as their permission may be needed. They may also be able to point you in the direction of a facility or program they recommend. Program sessions should be structured around the rider’s specific needs – emotional, physical and medical. Your doctor can help determine what will be most beneficial.
- Research any program or facility that you are considering. Do the trainers and assistants have medical certification and training? Can they customize a program to fit your and the doctor’s requirements? What is the condition of the facility and that of the horses and equipment? Do they have the proper type and sufficient amount of gear needed for the sessions?
- Safety of their riders and that of the therapy horses should be the biggest concern of any program. Safety helmets, harnesses and saddles are to be properly fit to each rider and horse for every session.
Take the time to find the best program to fit your particular needs and desired outcome. Schedule a facility visit and find out if you can observe a therapy session. You will quickly see why time spent with horses can be just what the doctor ordered.
Article by Julie Dees, a freelance writer from Central California who also happens to be a real, lifelong cowgirl. She enjoys writing about her love of horses and anything related to the outdoor life. She can be contacted at www.thecowgirlwrites.com.