Winston Churchill once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” Horses can have a profound effect on just about anyone. It has often been said that horses are a mirror to our souls. Due to the incredible nature and ability horses have to mirror and touch the souls of those that work with them, the use of horses in therapy is becoming more and more popular. Horses can help people to overcome fears, gain confidence, learn self-control, focus their attention, build relationships, and develop new skills—in a way other types of therapy can’t. Equine therapy has been shown to be very successful in treating people experiencing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, autism, cerebral palsy, reactive attachment disorder (RAD), dementia, depression, developmental delay, genetic syndromes (such as Down’s syndrome), traumatic brain injuries, behavioral issues, abuse issues, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug and alcohol addiction, and other mental health problems.
Recently a struggling teenage girl named Sara [name has been changed] was enrolled in an equine therapy program. On her first day in class, she made it very clear that she did not want to be there, and she wasn’t going to participate, or get near to the horses. After a few weeks of refusal, Sara was introduced to some Shetland ponies. Something about the ponies grabbed Sara’s interest. They were much smaller than a full sized horse, and they were very curious, and friendly. Sara decided to give them a try. A few weeks later, Sara chose to enroll in another class, where she would spend time training and preparing the ponies to pull a cart. Each week Sara’s confidence and self-esteem grew, both at the barn and at home. Her attitude changed, and she began to encourage other girls in her class, and looked forward to her time with the ponies. Shortly after this experience, Sara decided she wanted a job helping to care for all of the horses at the stable–big and small. She got to know the different horses–what they liked, what they didn’t like, and how to feed and properly care for them. As her knowledge and confidence grew, she began to train the full-sized horses as well. Before long, Sara was no longer afraid of the horses in her care, but enjoyed spending time with them and appreciated the peace that they brought into her life. She had learned to master her fears, and to re-direct that negative energy for good. She also developed work skills that could help her get a job in her future. Most importantly, she gained confidence in who she was, and the things she was able to accomplish.
Sara’s experience with equine therapy isn’t unique. Many people involved in equine therapy achieve positive results that help them in their individual lives. Horses are very honest with people, and require that the people working with them be fully present and engaged as well. After spending time with these magnificent creatures it is easy to understand how they can help change lives, and be a benefit to any therapeutic program.