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With around 74 percent of pet owners agreeing that having a pet drastically improved their mental health, it’s no wonder that animals play a crucial role in various therapy practices. Animals provide multiple benefits for those seeking recovery.

This includes emotional support animals or those used to aid a person during a traumatic situation. 

Equine-assisted psychotherapy is an innovative approach involving horses. Equine therapy for teens is an effective treatment solution. It lets them address issues and emotions through nonverbal communication and direct experience.

This guide will discuss equine-assisted therapy for teens and how the program at Eagle Overlook Recovery for Adolescents helps patients with their recovery. 

What is Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy?

Equine therapy in Georgia utilizes horses in its therapeutic process. Other names for equine-assisted psychotherapy include: 

  • Equine therapy
  • Horse therapy
  • Equestrian therapy
  • Therapeutic horseback riding

While they go by different names, each type of therapy has the same type of goals. Some goals of this type of therapy include:

  • Self-confidence 
  • Learning responsibility
  • Emotional regulation 

Patients engage in horse-related activities while under the supervision of mental health professionals. These activities can include:

  • Feeding
  • Leading a horse
  • Grooming
  • Day-to-day care

During this process, patients can process and discuss behaviors, feelings, and patterns. It’s believed that the horse’s presence is therapeutic since it’s a powerful and dynamic living creature. Additionally, a healing bond can form between horses and humans. 

Horse therapy uses the relationship that forms with the horse as a tool that mirrors the patient’s experiences and facilitates change. The results from equine therapy start quickly. Because of its effectiveness and intensity, it’s considered a brief therapy approach. 

The History of Equine Therapy

Equine therapy dates back thousands of years. Ancient Greek documents from Hippocrates from around 500 BC document the various benefits of horseback writing. Hippocrates wrote about “hippotherapy,” derived from the Greek word “hippo,” meaning horses. 

German physicians in the nineteenth century used horseback riding to reduce hysteria and hypochondria attacks. Europeans started to standardize and promote therapeutic riding as well. They used it to promote mental wellness and reduce the symptoms of physical ailments.

In the 1990s, horse programs for youths and teens became prominent in inpatient mental health and rehab facilities. The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) was created in 1999. It’s an organization that developed professional standards for horse and mental health therapy. 

How Does It Work?

During a horse therapy session, adolescents learn how to accept others and themselves by working with the horses and therapists. Equine-assisted therapy has shown to be effective for the following types of issues:

  • Autism 
  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Addiction 
  • Trauma-related symptoms
  • Dissociative disorders 

Horses can be sensitive to humans’ feelings. They’re also able to react to small shifts in their environment. They’re able to sense an adolescent’s emotional state. 

The horse can reflect and respond to a teen’s emotions. Additionally, horses won’t judge a person based on their diagnosis and emotions. Teens will feel unconditionally loved and accepted by horses during their treatment. 

The equine-assisted psychotherapy program at Eagle Overlook Recovery for Adolescents is action-based therapy. Equine therapy for teen substance abuse plays a crucial role in their recovery. 

Practicing Activities 

Patients who have extreme anxiety might avoid doing certain things that are outside of their comfort zone. Practicing activities with the horse allows them to choose an activity to do with the animal. This activity might be outside of their skill level. 

The therapist will work with them, guiding them as needed. They’ll take about the feelings or thoughts that doing the activity stimulates. For example, feeding and bathing the horse are different activities that require planning, communication, and coordination. 

Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive therapy is a typical treatment plan used for anxiety. Horses can sense danger. They’ll respond to that feeling with heightened awareness, sometimes fleeing if they feel like it’s too dangerous. 

Patients who suffer from anxiety might be able to feel the changes in the horse by observing them. This allows them and the therapist to discuss anxious activities. 

By focusing on the horse’s apprehension instead of their own can reduce the patient’s anxious feelings. They’re able to challenge the anxious thoughts they automatically get. During this process, the teen will work on staying calm and being responsible for their thoughts and actions. 

Activity Scheduling 

People who suffer from anxiety avoid their responsibilities or chores. The more they do that, the more their anxiety grows as they think about addressing their responsibilities. 

Developing or planning a schedule to care for the horse can teach the teen responsibility and flexibility. The horse’s needs can change at a moment’s notice.

The patient can then shift the focus from their anxiety by returning to structure throughout the day. They’ll start to feel responsible and competent as they routinely care for the horse. 

The Different Types of Equine-Assisted Therapy

There are a few different types of equine-assisted therapy. Each one has its own set of goals and objectives:

  • Equine-Assisted Learning Therapy: EAL is focused on helping patients develop vital life skills, like trust, communication, honesty, and self-awareness
  • Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy: During an EAP session, a mental healthcare provider will work with equine professionals to help their patients with their treatment goals
  • Hippotherapy: This refers to the ways physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy use horses 

The Benefits of Horses

Horses are massive creatures. Their size allows teens to develop self-confidence and overcome their fear. 

As we mentioned before, horses can experience a wide range of emotions and are intuitive animals. They have distinct moods, attitudes, and personalities. They also have specific roles within their herds that are similar to the dynamics of humans. 

Because of the similarities between horses and humans, they can teach and demonstrate the following things during therapy:

  • Honest communication 
  • Self-awareness
  • Healthy boundaries
  • Leadership
  • Trust
  • Affection 
  • Play
  • Assertiveness
  • Nurturing feelings

Horses can mirror a human’s body language. This helps patients with lessons and metaphors about themselves. As a result, they can work toward growth and change. 

Therapists do their best to provide patients with a safe place to explore painful experiences and emotional hurts. As we talked about before, it can be difficult for teens to share their thoughts. 

The presence of a horse might offer your teen a sense of wellbeing and peace. They won’t fear judgment from the horse due to their emotional experience or anything else they’ve done. 

How Horses Help With Addiction Treatment Programs

Equine-assisted psychotherapy can help with treating co-occurring conditions and addiction. A co-occurring condition, or dual diagnosis, refers to a patient who has an addiction and has a mental health diagnosis. 

The goal of our addiction treatments is to help our patients live productive, sober, and healthy lives. During addiction treatments, many teens are also working to heal hurts within their families or other relationships. Practicing vulnerability, learning trust, and how to communicate effectively can be challenging during treatment. 

Equine-assisted psychotherapy can help patients learn to trust as they interact with the horse. It’ll encourage them to experience vulnerability as they do activities with the horse. 

Some additional skills teens will learn during this program include:

  • Improving their assertiveness and confidence
  • Balancing their internal feelings
  • Becoming more focused and resilient 
  • Learning to understand boundaries
  • Feeling needed and connected
  • Eliminating their negative emotions 
  • Learning how to emotionally grow in a positive way
  • Being present and relaxed at the moment

Frequently Asked Questions About Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy 

Below are some of the questions we often get asked about horse therapy for teens. Don’t hesitate to contact our office if you have additional questions. 

What if My Teen is Scared of Horses?

Teens who are afraid of horses can still benefit from this type of therapy. Their fear can help reveal vital insights and breakthrough old patterns. They don’t need to have any previous knowledge of horses to participate in this program. 

Will Horseback Riding Be Necessary?

Whether or not your teen rides on the horse depends upon the type of treatment the therapist decides will be beneficial. Therapeutic riding is sometimes appropriate for a patient. That will be decided between your teen and their therapist during the initial sessions. 

How Will Working With Horses Help My Teen?

Teens and adolescents can often feel intimidated by a traditional therapy session. Sometimes they’ll find it hard to talk about and process painful experiences and emotions. Equine-assisted psychotherapy gives teens a therapeutic environment where they can feel less intimidated to talk about their feelings. 

Learn About Eagle Overlook Recovery for Adolescents’ Equine Therapy for Teens Program 

Engaging with animals and horses during equine-assisted psychotherapy helps teens during their recovery. They’ll gain self-confidence and self-acceptance. By making a connection with a powerful living creature outside of themselves, patients will develop a strong sense of connection. 

Contact us today to learn more about our recovery programs for teens suffering from addiction and other mental health conditions.