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The Healing Power of Horses: Exploring Equine Therapy

Equine Therapy: A Journey of Growth and Healing

Horses have been providing companionship and help to humans for centuries. Today, they are being used in a unique way to provide emotional, physical, and mental therapy to individuals with diverse needs.

Equine therapy is a form of therapy that utilizes horses to facilitate personal growth in those who are dealing with physical, emotional, and cognitive challenges. The benefits of equine therapy are numerous, and they range from improving your communication and interpersonal skills, becoming more confident, and even reducing stress.

This article will examine the benefits and purpose of equine therapy, how it works, its different types, and the process of becoming a certified equine therapist. It will also look at the positive influence of horses on humans, their physical and mental healing abilities, and how they aid in growth and discovery.

Benefits and Purpose of Equine Therapy:

Equine therapy has several benefits, including the development of communication and interpersonal skills, gaining confidence, and the reduction of stress and anxiety.

According to the American Hippotherapy Association, a national organization that promotes the use of horses in therapy, equine therapy can help improve balance, coordination, and physical strength. Individuals with cognitive challenges, such as ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorders, can also benefit from equine therapy.

Equine therapy is also useful for individuals who are dealing with a variety of emotional issues, such as low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. The horses provide a non-judgmental and peaceful presence that can help people feel safe and secure.

How Equine Therapy Works:

The primary goal of equine therapy is to create a safe and empowering environment for individuals to engage with horses. Sessions usually involve grooming horses, leading them through exercises, and riding them.

The interaction between individuals and horses provides an opportunity for individuals to learn about themselves and others. One of the unique features of equine therapy is the behavioral feedback loop that occurs.

Horses are sensitive animals and have a naturally perceptible nature. They have the ability to sense emotions like fear, anxiety, and excitement, which in turn affect their behavior.

During equine therapy, horses help in sending behavioral cues back to individuals, which can provide insights into how they are interacting with others, handle anxiety, and express emotions. While the horses are non-judgmental, they are honest, and their feedback provides an opportunity for individuals to improve themselves.

Types of Equine Therapy:

Several types of equine therapy exist.

  • Therapeutic riding involves used therapeutic equestrian techniques designed to improve the physical development and mobility of individuals with physical limitations.
  • Hippotherapy, on the other hand, is a form of therapy that used the movement of horses to promote therapeutic benefits for people with physical, cognitive, and neurological impairments.
  • Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) is a form of psychotherapy that involves working with horses to help people manage different emotional and cognitive issues.

It uses activities such as grooming, leading, and playing with horses to provide insight into how an individual handles different situations and emotions.

Becoming a Certified Equine Therapist:

If you wish to become a certified equine therapist, there are several paths you can take.

The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH), a nonprofit organization, provides certification to individuals that meet the requirements (PATH Int. n.d.).

These requirements include having a certain level of equine experience, passing certification tests, and the completion of a mentorship program. The certification is not mandatory, but it can enhance the credibility, legal protection, and employability of individuals who wish to work as equine therapists.

Positive Influence of Horses:

Horses have a positive influence on humans, and it is not just limited to equine therapy. Their presence and the activities involved in working and interacting with them have profound physical and mental healing abilities.

Horses have the ability to reduce stress levels in humans, leading to the decrease of anxiety and depression. According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, simply being around horses can lower cortisol levels, which are linked to stress and anxiety (Almanzar et al. 2018). Additionally, physical activities, such as grooming or riding a horse, can help improve mental health and cognitive function.

Physical and Mental Healing Abilities:

The physical benefits of being with horses are many, and they go beyond the therapeutic environment. Horses require physical activity, and working with them provides individuals with an opportunity to exercise, improve balance, strengthen their core, and enhance their fine motor skills.

The Horse for Heroes Program, a non-profit organization, provides horse riding programs and therapy to veterans who are dealing with physical and emotional challenges. According to the program, the physical and mental benefits of horse riding include back, leg, and torso flexibility, balance, and coordination.

Growth and Discovery through Working with Horses:

Working with horses fosters personal growth in individuals. The activities involved in working with horses require responsibility, patience, and the ability to control emotions.

It teaches people how to appreciate the value of hard work and teamwork, and it develops characteristics like accountability and dependability. People working with horses are also more likely to feel a sense of purpose and confidence due to the sense of achievement they get from working with such large animals.

Conclusion:

Horses are a unique animal and have the ability to provide various benefits to humans. Equine therapy is one of the unique ways that allow us to interact with these animals and benefit from their abilities.

The benefits of equine therapy go beyond the therapeutic environment and extend to day-to-day life. Horses have the capacity to provide physical healing, improve cognitive function, and develop personal growth and accountability.

The process of becoming a certified equine therapist is structured, and individuals interested can pursue certification through organizations such as the PATH. With all the positive influence they have, it’s easy to see why working with horses has been around for centuries.

Types of Equine Therapy

Equine therapy is a holistic approach that involves the use of horses as a form of therapeutic intervention. It provides people with an opportunity to improve their physical, emotional, and cognitive abilities through a variety of activities such as grooming, leading, and riding horses.

There are different types of equine therapy, and each type serves a unique purpose in promoting personal growth and wellbeing.

Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP)

Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) is a form of therapy that involves the use of horses as a way to facilitate psychotherapy sessions. The goal of EFP is to help individuals resolve emotional, behavioral, and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Unlike traditional psychotherapy sessions, where an individual is seated in a room with a therapist, EFP takes place outside the office setting. Sessions usually take place in a quiet and natural environment where activities like grooming, leading, and calming horses are used as a way of addressing emotional issues.

EFP has been found to produce several benefits, including enhanced self-awareness, improved communication, and interpersonal skills, and the ability to identify and manage emotions better. This therapy also involves the use of biofeedback, where the horse’s behavior and movement are used as cues to help individuals understand and regulate their emotions.

Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL)

Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) is a form of equine therapy that focuses on non-verbal communication and experiential learning. EFL is often used to teach individuals who have behavioral issues, learning disabilities, or social challenges.

The goal of EFL is to provide individuals with a unique learning experience that uses horses as teachers and guides.

EFL activities involve simple tasks such as grooming, leading, and playing with horses.

The challenges and obstacles presented during these activities offer opportunities for individuals to identify and overcome obstacles in a safe space. This therapy is designed to help individuals develop non-verbal communication skills, such as body language, tone, and eye contact.

The skills learned through EFL can be applied in day-to-day activities, such as building relationships and working in a team.

Hippotherapy

Hippotherapy is a form of therapy that aims to improve the physical abilities of individuals with neurological or motor impairments. The therapy uses the movement of the horse as a way of simulating the movements of human walking and coordinating the different muscles and joints involved.

Hippotherapy has several benefits, including improved balance, motor coordination, posture, and functional mobility. The therapy also uses the sensory experience of working with horses to enhance sensory awareness, control, and integration.

Hippotherapy can be used for individuals with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis, or any other condition that affects mobility and motor control.

Therapeutic or Adaptive Riding

Therapeutic or Adaptive Riding is a type of equine therapy that focuses on improving the physical and emotional wellbeing of individuals with multiple disabilities. The goal of this therapy is to provide individuals with an opportunity to experience the joys of riding and working with horses while promoting physical development, sensory integration, and emotional wellbeing.

Riding therapy provides a range of benefits that include improved motor coordination, balance, and strength. The therapy also provides an opportunity for individuals to develop comforting and rewarding relationships with horses.

Working with horses has a calming effect on individuals, which helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.

PATH Certification Levels

The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) provides a certification program that offers three different levels of certification: Registered, Advanced, and Master. Each of these levels has specific requirements that an individual must meet to become certified.

Registered Level

The registered level is the entry-level certification for PATH. Individuals seeking this certification must have experience working with horses, complete a minimum of 25 hours of documented instruction, pass a test on basic horsemanship skills, demonstrate the ability to handle and care for horses safely, and be able to plan and teach therapeutic riding lessons to individuals with disabilities.

The certification demonstrates competence in providing adaptive riding instructions to individuals with disabilities.

Advanced Level

The advanced level certification is a higher level of certification that demonstrates advanced knowledge and skills in therapeutic horsemanship. To obtain this certification, individuals must have met all the requirements for the registered level, demonstrate teaching ability by teaching a variety of horse-riding lessons to individuals with disabilities, and successfully pass the advanced level certification exam.

Master’s Level

The master’s level certification is the highest level of certification offered by PATH. It demonstrates an individual’s expertise in providing equine-assisted therapy.

A master’s level certified equine therapist should meet all the requirements for the registered and advanced levels, have a Master’s degree, be able to apply theoretical and practical knowledge to provide quality service, and demonstrate excellence in leadership, instruction, and therapy. It is worth noting that while the certification is not mandatory, it enhances the legal protection, credibility, and employability of an individual who wishes to work as an equine therapist.

Conclusion

In conclusion, equine therapy provides a unique and effective form of therapy that helps promote emotional, mental, physical, and cognitive health. There are different types of equine therapy, and each type is designed to address specific issues.

As with any profession, certification is vital, and PATH certification provides an opportunity for individuals to showcase their knowledge, expertise, and ability to provide quality instruction and therapy. Equine therapy is a growing field, and it provides a way for individuals to connect with horses while improving various aspects of their wellbeing.

Equine therapy is a holistic approach to therapy that uses horses to provide physical, emotional, and cognitive benefits to individuals. The therapy comes in various forms, including EFP, EFL, hippotherapy, and adaptive riding.

PATH certification offers three levels of certification for individuals who want to work as equine therapists. Equine therapy has several benefits, including improved communication and interpersonal skills, enhanced self-awareness and emotional control, improved cognitive function, and better physical health.

Horse therapy is an effective way of tapping into the unique abilities of horses to facilitate growth and healing in humans. The use of horses is a growing field, and there are numerous benefits to be gained.

FAQs:

  1. What is equine-assisted therapy?
  2. Equine-assisted therapy is a form of therapy that uses horses to provide emotional, physical, and cognitive benefits to individuals.

  3. What are the different types of equine therapy?
  4. The different types of equine therapy include EFP, EFL, hippotherapy, and adaptive riding.

  5. What does PATH certification entail?
  6. PATH certification offers three levels of certification that individuals must complete to become certified equine therapists: Registered, Advanced, and Master’s levels.

  7. What benefits can be gained from equine therapy?
  8. Equine therapy provides numerous benefits, including improved communication and interpersonal skills, enhanced self-awareness and emotional control, improved cognitive function, and better physical health.

  9. Is Certification mandatory to work as an equine therapist?
  10. No, certification is not mandatory to work as an equine therapist, but it enhances the legal protection, credibility, and employability of an individual who wishes to work as an equine therapist.

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