The Healing Power of Horses in Equine Therapy

Image of a little girl smiling while on horseback

Horses are magnificent, majestic, and mysterious creatures. Despite their large size, horses often display a gentle nature and an intuitiveness for human emotion and states of mind. The use of horses in therapeutic situations dates back to Ancient Greece (600 BCE). Today, there are several types of equine-assisted therapies in use for the treatment and management of physical and mental health conditions.

Among the health conditions that evidence-based equine therapy has been used for are the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Attention deficit disorders
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorders
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Dementia
  • Developmental disorders
  • Down Syndrome
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Addiction
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Physical and emotional trauma
  • Problems that arise from experiencing physical or emotional abuse

How Does Equine Assisted Therapy Work?

A premise of Equine Therapy is that horses have similar behaviors with humans, such as social and responsive behaviors, which makes it easy for a patient to create a connection with the horse. The horse’s size commands immediate respect and trust from the person who interacts with it. This is an essential part of the therapy and can often be easier to establish with the horse compared to the time it can take to establish trust with a counselor in therapy.

The horse is a non-judgemental mirror of the person who is working with them. Horses react only to a person’s behavior and emotional state; they are not affected by a patient’s physical appearance, their mistakes, or their past behavior.

A horse has an innate sensitivity to a person’s behavior, emotions, movements, and energy level. The horse can mirror the patient, which helps that person become more self-aware. At the same time, the person can feel validated and acknowledged. These interactions between horse and patient can then be translated by the equine specialist and processed by the individual/group.

Benefits of Equine Therapy

Equine Therapy can help a person strengthen their confidence, self-esteem, and self-efficiency. Working with the horses and through interactions with the people involved in a program, an individual has an opportunity to improve social skills, manage impulses, and learn how to maintain appropriate boundaries.

Types of Therapy with Horses

Understand that each person and circumstance is unique–even if two people have the same medical diagnosis. Additionally, it’s helpful to know that there are several types of equine-assisted therapy programs, each with its own focus. Briefly, these are:

Therapeutic/Adaptive Horsemanship includes non-therapy services that are adapted from traditional riding disciplines and include adaptive equestrian sport, riding, driving and interactive vaulting.

Therapies Incorporating Equines conducted by licensed mental health professionals in five therapeutic areas: counseling, occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychotherapy, and speech-language pathology.

Equine-Assisted Learning is offered by certified professionals who may incorporate horses in non-therapy settings such as education, organizations, and personal development.

Equine-Assisted Services for Veterans is provided by specially-trained equine professionals with programs that serve the unique needs of military personnel and veterans.

To learn more about equine therapy and to find out if is appropriate for you or a loved one, please check the following resources:

Equine Therapy Network

Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship

Horses Healing Hearts


Of Horse. “The History of Equine Therapy.”

White‐Lewis, S. “Equine‐assisted Therapies Using Horses as Healers: A Concept Analysis.” Nursing Open 7, no. 1 (September 27, 2019): 58–67.

Shelef, A., et al. “Equine Assisted Therapy for Patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Series Study.” Military Medicine 184, no. 9–10 (October 1, 2019): 394–99.

Malcolm, R., S. Ecks, and M. Pickersgill. “‘It Just Opens up Their World’: Autism, Empathy, and the Therapeutic Effects of Equine Interactions.” Anthropology & Medicine 25, no. 2 (August 2018): 220–34.

Wilson, K., et al. “Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy for Adolescents Experiencing Depression and/or Anxiety: A Therapist’s Perspective.” Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry 22, no. 1 (January 2017): 16–33.

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