Equine Therapy Treatment
Equine-assisted therapy is an innovative treatment model utilized in addiction treatment. Through work with horses, individuals can gain greater insight into other areas of life. Interestingly, many people experience gains in equine therapy that they aren’t able to achieve in traditional talk therapy.
Specifics of Equine Therapy
Monty Roberts, bestselling author of The Man Who Listens to Horses is internationally acclaimed for his soft approach to training and taming wild or misbehaved horses. The book, written in autobiographical format, chronicles Roberts’ troubled youth at the hands of an abusive father. Roberts, having grown up with horses, became sensitized to them at an early age, feeling more of a kinship with them than a master/beast relationship.
In his early teens, on a trip to Nevada to observe horses in the wild, Roberts witnessed how horses interacted with each other, and translated his insights into a philosophy and technique to compassionately train them. Roberts’ unique approach landed on the international stage, and even garnered the attention of the Queen of England, for whom he has done horse-training demonstrations and developed a friendship.
It did not take long for the public to see how Roberts’ approach to horses could be useful in human relationships. For instance, as reported in the British paper The Guardian, in 2005, Roberts was invited to the United Kingdom to conduct a three-day workshop for teachers of independent British schools. Roberts, drawing insightful parallels between children’s behavior and that of horses (like how each processes aggression and intimidation), adapted his training philosophy to childrearing and educating.
For example, to teach children responsibility without resorting to punishment, Roberts advised the UK teachers to have children draft a contract for good behavior and bad behavior. As Roberts theorized, the process would allow children to be heard in the drafting process and take responsibility for any sanctions (like a timeout) in the event of a violation. In this way, children would not be subject to the fear of the unknown if they broke a rule, nor would they have to face the whim and discretion of the teacher (who might dole out a more severe or lighter punishment on any given day because of his particular mood and not the child’s actions).
Today, equine therapy is evolving to become a recognized form of therapy in the US. Roberts is not the father of equine therapy, but his insights are in line with many of those of certified equine therapists. Although programs may vary among treatment centers, the core of equine therapy is the same. Working with a horse can provide an opportunity for the client to learn new strategies of communication and personally growth.
Some of the benefits of equine therapy include the development of:
- Greater confidence
- Impulse control
- Social skills
- Wider perspective
These personal qualities and life skills can be developed through a host of different approaches in an equine therapy session. For instance, a session may involve putting a client in the ring with a horse and asking him to lead the horse without making any physical contact. An equine therapy client will soon learn that yelling, snapping fingers, threats, stamping feet, and other such behaviors will not work with a horse, just as they often do not work with other humans. In reality, a horse cannot be led from the front nor prodded from behind. A person in equine therapy will learn that a horse will join in with a person who stands by their side. Because equine therapy is so far outside of the box for many people, they are gently forced to confront longstanding assumptions of communication and relationships, and shift into new, more compassionate approaches.
The trust-building and personal growth that equine therapy can offer is an ideal match for the needs of many substance abusers in recovery. For this reason, equine therapy is available at certain rehab facilities as part of their complementary or supplemental behavioral therapy programs.Equine therapy is not intended as a substitute for the traditional approaches of detox, counseling and aftercare. Drug abuse is complex and requires a multidisciplinary approach to achieve success. In light of high relapse rates (40 to 60 percent) post-treatment, new therapies, like working with horses, can help to improve the odds of a successful recovery.
As the National Institute on Drug Abuse discusses, the behavioral therapy component of rehab is aimed at rebuilding the recovering addict’s self-esteem and teaching healthy life skills to maintain abstinence. Additional goals of behavioral therapy include:
- Providing an incentive to actively participate in treatment
- Learning how to cope with stress without turning to drugs
- Shifting out of the drug-using mindset and adopting a life-affirming attitude
- Understanding cues that can trigger drug use, and developing strategies to avoid or cope with these triggers
While traditional therapy approaches can address these goals, equine therapy offers yet another avenue to learn these skills. Equine therapy also has the advantage of an open-air setting that can help to connect clients to nature.
If you’d like more information on equine-assisted therapy, or details on FRN programs that offer it, contact us today.