Equine Assisted Therapy involves the use of horses to improve human physical and mental health. Although historically EAT has been used as a therapeutic aid for ailments including gout and neurological disorders, today it is primarily used to improve mental wellbeing.
There are several types of therapy including therapeutic horseback riding, hippotherapy, and equine-assisted psychotherapy. However, across the board, scientific evidence of EAT’s effectiveness is often seen as inadequate.
Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) goes under a number names: Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP), Equine Facilitated Wellness (EFW), Equine Facilitated Counselling (EFC), and Equine Facilitated Mental Health (EFMH).
EAP is a recent addition to the EAT toolset, only formally being introduced in 1996. The therapy focuses on treating psychological problems in an equestrian facility, typically through groundwork, although vaulting and riding is also used in some instances.
Derived from the ancient Greek word for horse, Hippotherapy is employed with the belief that it will improve posture, flexibility, balance, and rider mobility. Some argue that the warmth, shape, and rhythm of a horse affects a rider’s strength, coordination, posture, balance, and sensorimotor systems.
Hippotherapy has also been used to assist with speech issues. This includes confidence-building via interaction with a horse using verbal cues, and progression on to the rider interacting verbally with a therapist whilst in the supposedly calming and reassuring presence of a horse.
Therapeutic Horseback Riding
According to Wikipedia, “therapeutic riding is used by disabled individuals who ride horses to relax, and to develop muscle tone, coordination, confidence, and well-being”. It is considered to be a type of recreational therapy as the rider is taught by a non-therapist riding instructor; it is the simple act of riding that is deemed therapeutic.
Famous therapy animals – Smoke the Donkey
Perhaps the most famous therapy horse (or donkey) was Smoke – a mascot and therapy animal for the United States Marine Corps. Initially rescued by Marine Colonel Folsom, the donkey was provided for with a purpose-built stable and corral.
Owing to restrictions on the type of animal that could be kept within the compound, Folsom successfully had Smoke classified as a therapy animal by a Navy Psychologist so that it could remain on base.
In 2011 Smoke was flown from Iraq to Nebraska, US, to live out his final days before he passed away from natural causes in August 2012.
If you feel Equine Assisted Therapy would benefit you, or someone you know, then search on Google for therapists in your area. You should also discuss your options with your therapist/clinician.