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 A Look at Equine Therapy

Equine therapy incorporates horses into the therapeutic process. People groom, feed, and lead horses while supervised by a mental health professional. The goals of this form of therapy include helping people develop skills such as emotional regulation, self-confidence, and responsibility.

Equine therapy has various emotional, mental, and physical benefits. People have been using horses for treatment for many years, and it has become a trusted therapeutic aid with documented benefits. The history of equine therapy goes as far back as 600 BC, when an individual from ancient Lydia named Orbasis documented the therapeutic value of horse riding.

Other Names for Equine Therapy

With mature horses weighing anywhere from nine hundred to two thousand pounds or more, it might feel a bit intimidating to have such a large, majestic creature participating in your therapy sessions.

Nonetheless, equine horse therapy is growing due to its experiential approach and some burgeoning evidence of its effectiveness. There are a variety of terms used to describe or reference equine therapy, including:1

  • Equine-assisted counseling
  • Therapeutic equine therapy
  • Equine-assisted psychotherapy
  • Equine therapy for mental health
  • Equine horse therapy
  • Healing horse therapy
  • Equine-assisted therapy

Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP)

EAP refers to incorporating equines experientially for emotional growth and learning. This therapy is a collaborative effort between a licensed therapist, an equine specialist, an equine, and the clients.

These four parties work together to achieve and address treatment goals. Participating in equine activities allows clients to learn about themselves and others by processing thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and patterns. The focus of EAP is not riding or horsemanship, but rather it is setting up ground activities that involve the equines and clients applying specific skills. Great Oaks Recovery Center offers care and guidance from highly trained professionals to ensure each individual feels safe and confident during each step of their treatment.

Examples of the various tools used in EAP include:2

  • Non-verbal communication
  • Assertiveness
  • Creative thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Leadership
  • Work
  • Taking responsibility
  • Teamwork
  • Relationships
  • Confidence
  • Attitude

Understanding Animal-Assisted Therapy

Equine-assisted psychotherapy is different from animal-assisted psychotherapy because of the type of animal incorporated. Animal-assisted therapy utilizes predatory animals, such as dogs and cats, while EPA integrates horses, which are prey animals. Prey animals have an acute and heightened sense of perception and awareness of what is happening around them.

Equines do not know how to conceal because awareness and reflection keep them safe. People have learned to “conceal” their true feelings, authentic selves, and intent in today’s day and age. Through this acute awareness, perception, and reflection, the horse can mirror and reveal what feelings are truly being experienced, removing all masks.

What Does EAP Incorporate?

Horses are mighty messengers in an equine therapy session, providing a sense of safety and unconditional acceptance. Because horses can reflect a person’s behavior, clients can see their progress. The client, therefore, does not only hear about their changed behavior but also experiences change firsthand.

It is important to note that using horses for therapy requires the presence of a horse trainer and expert.

EAP incorporates:

  • Equine therapy for mental health issues
  • Horse therapy for anxiety
  • Equine therapy depression


Hippotherapy is a physical, occupational, and speech therapy treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement. This type of therapy is used as part of an integrated treatment program to achieve functional outcomes.3

Hippotherapy differs from therapeutic equine therapy in that equine therapy addresses mental health issues, such as depression, and hippotherapy is for physical therapy.

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists can overlay a variety of motor tasks on a horse’s movement to address each client’s motor needs. This can promote functional outcomes in skill areas related to gross motor ability, such as sitting, standing, and walking.

Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists can combine the effects of the equine movement with other standard intervention strategies for working on fine motor control, sensory integration, feeding skills, attentional skills, and functional daily living skills in a progressively challenging manner.

Speech-Language Pathologists

Speech-language pathologists can use equine movement to facilitate the physiologic systems that support speech and language. When combined with other standard speech-language intervention strategies, the speech-language pathologist can generate effective remediation of communication disorders and promote functional communication outcomes.4

Another major risk of alcoholism is the withdrawal stage. Should alcoholism in veterans progress to life-threatening levels, then the withdrawal stage can be deadly. Alcohol is one of the few substances that can be deadly when withdrawal hits.

While every drug withdrawal comes with complications, alcohol withdrawal can cause the brain and body to shut down. This aspect is one of the main reasons that combating severe alcoholism must be done in a medical or inpatient environment.

Benefits of Therapeutic Riding

Therapeutic riding, also known as equine therapeutic riding, is a recreational equine therapy that involves an individual with little to no riding experience working with a trained riding instructor. The instructor teaches the student basic horseback riding and training techniques that improve cognitive, emotional, and physical well-being.

One of the significant benefits of equine therapy is the joy and sense of connection the person receives when riding the horse instead of only interacting with the horse in other forms of therapeutic equine therapy.

As a rapidly growing form of therapy for individuals of all ages, physical conditions, and abilities, horseback riding therapy has been proven highly beneficial.5

Improves Balance

Horseback riding requires immense amounts of balance. Especially for a beginner rider, this can be pretty exhausting; however, horseback riding therapy can help improve participants’ balance over time.

Improves Coordination

Participating in therapeutic horseback riding allows the rider to work on motor planning and reflexes, including eye-hand coordination.

Strengthens Muscles

Riding is a great way to develop and strengthen muscles throughout the body. Because horseback riding is a fun activity, it can be a great way to introduce exercise to an otherwise hesitant individual.

Improves Blood Circulation

For sedentary individuals, horseback riding therapy provides an excellent opportunity for blood circulation and cardiovascular exercise.

Increases Range of Motion

Therapeutic horseback riding involves stretching both on and off the horse. It provides an increased range of motion and relaxation to muscles and tendons throughout the body.

Mental Health Benefits

Horseback riding therapy has been shown to improve one’s mental health by increasing self-confidence, patience, and providing a sense of well-being.

Emotional Health Benefits

Therapeutic riding provides companionship and is an enjoyable activity, helping improve one’s emotional health.

What Conditions Are Treated with Equine Therapy?

By covering the advantages of therapeutic riding and the physical aspects of hippotherapy, it is clear that the benefits of equine therapy are plentiful and diverse.

We at Great Oaks understand that everyone is unique and requires their own personalized treatment program. This is why we offer various types of therapy that treat different conditions to ensure our clients’ needs are met with care, focus, and support.

Equine therapy for mental health deals primarily with psychological therapy and, as such, is associated with treating the following conditions.

Depression, Anxiety, Stress

Equine horse therapy is used for treating common disorders such as depression, anxiety, and stress. Therapists will usually use EAP as one part of a multi-treatment plan, depending on the specific conditions and severity of the client’s symptoms.

Horse Therapy for Anxiety
Studies have shown that simply spending time with horses reduces anxiety. In addition, when you include horse riding and other trust-based exercises, these can significantly improve anxiety symptoms.

Horse Therapy for Depression and Stress
Horses are majestic. Thus, being in their presence, riding them, and interacting with them is a joyful experience, which significantly assists with depression and reduces stress.


Healing from trauma is a process that can be daunting, especially when there is a lack of trauma-specific treatment options available in a particular area.

Survivors who have exhausted traditional talk therapy modalities and ​do not have access to specialized trauma therapies often seek alternative methods like equine-assisted programs to continue their journey of recovery or supplement existing trauma treatment.6

Eating Disorders

Equine therapy is also beneficial when recovering from eating disorders, as it allows for unconditional acceptance. Clients in treatment for an eating disorder who are exposed to equine therapy may have the increased potential to process difficult emotions or memories through this healing outlet.

A horse can also serve as an influential impression on an individual who has dealt with negative body image and low self-esteem, as care and nurture are often empowering experiences.7

Behavior Disorders

Equine horse therapy has been shown to dramatically assist in the treatment of the following behavioral disorders:

  • Inattention
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Defiant behavior
  • Drug use
  • Criminal activity

Traumatic Brain Injury

Equine therapy can assist in treating damage to neural pathways and trauma associated with traumatic brain injuries.

It also plays a role in the physical rehabilitation needed after impairment caused by the injury. Range of movement, muscle stimulation, and many other impaired processes are improved through equine therapeutic techniques.

How Equine Therapy Can Benefit You

There is a wide range of benefits related to equine therapy, but some of the most common include:

  • Increased Trust: One of the significant benefits of horse therapy is the trust relationship between the horse and the individual. Those who have experienced trauma in their lives may develop severe trust issues, so the deep bond of trust formed with the horse is highly therapeutic.
  • Reduced Anxiety: Anxiety is a disorder on its own and is also prevalent in many other psychological conditions. Horse riding and the interaction between people and horses help reduce these feelings of anxiety.
  • Reduced Feelings of Depression and Isolation: Depression, loneliness, and feelings of isolation are common symptoms of mental disorders. Equine therapy helps lighten the mood and establish trust connections.
  • Increased Self-Esteem: Interaction with horses, especially riding them and gaining their trust, gives people a renewed sense of self-esteem, aiding in the healing process.

Is There a Minimum and Maximum Age?

It largely depends on the facility and the therapist; nonetheless, there is no mandated minimum or maximum age. People of all ages can experience the many benefits equine therapy has to offer because there are different types of treatments that cater to all needs.

What About the Fear Factor?

If an individual has an innate fear or severe phobia of horses, this is something they should mention to their therapist to potentially avoid equine therapy. On the other hand, if someone has a slight fear, perhaps deciding to interact with horses can turn into a long-lasting and beneficial form of therapy. Nevertheless, people should always check with a medical professional first.

Is Equine Therapy Covered by Insurance, and How Much Does It Cost?

This type of therapy is often covered by medical insurance. Although equine therapy is a well-researched therapeutic method, coverage depends on the state the person is located, the facility they are seeking treatment from, and the type of medical insurance they have. Thus, individuals should check with their insurance company and facility to ensure coverage.

Costs vary depending on several factors, including the region, type of facility, and treatment. It is important for people to find out all the costs beforehand to ensure they can proceed with this type of therapy.

Treatment for Alcoholism in Veterans Near Houston

Here at Great Oaks Recovery Center, we prioritize the well-being of each individual and ensure the treatment process is a safe, positive, and comforting experience. Our highly trained professionals offer specialized programs unique to each client’s needs, providing an authentic and focused recovery. Some of the essential programs we offer include detoxification, residential, family, continuing care, and wellness education.

Equine therapy is a beneficial and effective therapeutic option that improves the lives of thousands of clients by harnessing the majestic and magical powers of the horse. Our staff at Great Oaks will develop a specialized treatment plan for you that can include equine therapy if that is what your healing process calls for. Wherever you are in your recovery journey, Great Oaks Recovery Center can meet you along the way.

You do not have to face the healing process alone. Contact our team of professionals today to learn more about our programs and resources.



Questions About Treatment?

Our knowledgeable team is ready to discuss your situation and options. Your call is confidential with no obligation required.