The overall concept of using horses to improve human health (mental and physical) is nothing new. In fact, most people aren’t aware but Greek physician Hippocrates in ~400BC first pointed to the benefit of horses. However, the current concept of “equine therapies” didn’t really come to modern attention until the 1960s.
Fast forward to today, studies are popping up, and many researchers are delving deep into the subject. Researchers are keen to understand what horse owners have described as the “horse bug”.
Is there a reason why humans turn “horse mad” to the non-horse public?
At Freedom Equestrian we see the outcomes daily, it’s very unique compared to other forms of animal-based therapies. Humans and animals require no words to communicate. Humans are predators, horses are prey, we both see the world very differently and in-between lessons can be learned. There aren’t many prey animals the size of horses, certainly none domesticated, easily accessible, and even more so none that we can non-verbally communicate within a prey-predator dynamic.
As mentioned above, animals and humans don’t require words to communicate. The communication shared is generally done on an emotional level. People are often able to be more vulnerable around animals than they are around other people.
Just being around horses helps to open up a judgmental free and unbiased relationship in which a person can learn to express and understand themselves better. Horses are also very intuitive, temperamental, always on alert, making them good companions for anyone hoping to manage a mental illness.
More Reading: Learn about our Mental Health programs
Horses intuitively mirror emotions that a person may be experiencing, their prey instinct allows them to read us a like a book. Horses are empathetic and may reflect sadness, angst, or discomfort back towards the person.
The mirroring therefore can promote self-awareness and open-mindedness, the person can make an active effort to interpret the horse’s behaviour as a reflection of their own. This feedback loop can help the person to see into the patterning of their own thinking, leading them to understand their emotional reactions, their effects on others and work on behaviour change strategies.
One of the most important aspects of health is getting physical exercise. There is no shortage of evidence that physical exercise fights depression, anxiety, and more.
Its widely known and reported that persons who live sedentary lives, for example, tend to have a higher chance of developing problems like depression, mainly because without exercise the body isn’t able to effectively produce hormones like dopamine and serotonin, which are responsible for our mental well being.
Horse Riding is a great way to engage in exercise, and you will likely exercise muscles that rarely get used. Horse riding isn’t secured to “exercise for the sake of exercise”, it’s fun, and not a chore like a gym workout.
People who struggle with disabilities may find that their self-esteem improves when they spend time with a horse. Horses are sentient beings that don’t judge or disparage individuals, instead, treating them as equals. They display behaviours of gratefulness and respect towards the people that spend time around and interacting with them. This can help an individual’s self-esteem and can help to restore confidence to persons who need improvement with self-acceptance.
People often feel more comfortable being vulnerable around animals. Furthermore, people may be able to use the horse as a reference point or to anthropomorphize it to express problems that they’re experiencing but are less willing to be open about in a typical human-to-human interaction.
Riding a horse requires a great deal of attention and can increase pre-operative thinking, something that people with ADHD may struggle with. The control and multitasking required to ride a horse can be remarkably beneficial for their growth.
More Reading: Learn more on Horses & ADHD
Spending time with horses can free the mind from stress and preoccupations that may be inhabiting your mental thought process and time. Therapeutically horses have been shown to be effective for helping people manage their anxiety.
There is no doubt that horses are amazing, just like dogs and cats and any domestic animal, they bring a bond. Horses do however show something different, they sit in a grey area of being a tad more complex than we once thought. This is why we choose horses, they are unique and have much to teach us.
Come along and try horse riding and EFL, no cost, no commitment, we want to share what a horse-human connection can do for you, your client, your children or your partner.