The Values Of Equestrian Therapy
There are several different types of equestrian therapy being practiced. One of the more heartwarming things to watch is children with disabilities, physical or mental, on horseback for the first time. The first time is seldom the last time, as there is something about the motion of a horse or having physical contact with a horse that is extremely therapeutic. For that matter, just being near a horse or around horses can be therapeutic as well.
On the physical side, one theory is that the motion of the horse exercises muscles that a person with a disability may not be able to exercise. In that respect, the physical health benefits of equestrian therapy are obvious. As far as mental therapy is concerned, one only has to look at the face of a child who has spent some minutes on the back of a horse. It's almost as if the child, on the back of a horse that is moving at a slow walk, and can barely hang on, is saying "faster", and saying it with a huge smile.
There is something about the horse that is just plain good for us. People have known this for centuries, and equestrian therapy has been around for a long time as well. People who live in horse country often know something about it, while those who live in areas having few horses may never have heard of it.
There are several reasons why horses are good for people who have physical or mental disabilities, have personal problems and difficulty in getting from one day to the next, or are criminal types. Spend some time around horses and you'll soon understand why, without having to be told.
Horses are social animals, and more often than not easily bond with people. There are a few rogue horses or high-spirited stallions it might not be safe to be around, but most horses wouldn't harm anyone except accidentally.
One reason equestrian therapy works for a certain group of people, those who are difficult people, is that horses cannot easily be bullied, or in general cannot be told what to do. The old saying - "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink" - is very true. The horse has a mind of its own, and as far as communication is concerned, the horse won't even meet you halfway. You have to learn to think like a horse and show it proper respect. When you learn to do that, it's easier to get on well not only with horses, but with people. You show them respect, and go to greater lengths to communicate.
Riding Not Always Necessary - Those with emotional problems can benefit from horseback riding, which in itself is therapeutic, but just being around or working around horses is often enough. Even those who initially fear horses will soon have that fear replaced by respect, and even affection. Overcoming a fear of horses can help overcome other fears as well. If you can learn to coexist with an animal that weights 6 times or more than you do, is 10 times as strong, and twice as fast, you probably can handle other situations which once may have seemed impossible.
There are numerous businesses and non-profit organizations offering equestrian therapy in North America, and in Europe as well. The practice is much more widespread than many realize. One question that sometimes pops up is “what about the horse?” In extreme cases where violent or otherwise difficult people are subjected to equestrian therapy, excessive stress can often be placed on the horse. When the patient is more passive or compliant, studies, though inconclusive, seem to suggest that the horse benefits as well. This is not surprising when one takes into account that most horses like people, and can benefit from a little “human therapy” from time to time.