Equine-assisted therapy: How horses can help you heal

29 March 2023
Sakshi Jain Written by Sakshi Jain
Sakshi Jain

Sakshi Jain

Sakshi is pursuing her major in clinical psychology. She loves to help people improve their...

Click here to know more
Srinithi Sridhar Reviewed by Srinithi Sridhar
Srinithi Sridhar

Srinithi Sridhar

Srinithi Sridhar is a trauma-informed and queer affirmative therapist. She primarily works with...

Click here to know more
ClosePlease login

“My cat is my therapist!”

“My dog brings me smiles and happiness.”

“I prefer being with my pet more than humans.”

We all might have come across such statements. Pets can offer remarkable comfort and unconditional acceptance to their humans. But we are mostly thinking of either a dog or a cat when we talk of animals that can help improve our mental and physical health. However, you will be surprised to know the therapeutic benefits that a horse can offer with equine therapy. Let’s dive into what equine therapy is. 

What is equine therapy?

Equine therapy or equine-assisted therapy (EAT) is a type of experiential therapy which involves a variety of tasks and interactions with horses to help the client achieve their physical health and mental health goals. People engage in activities like grooming, riding, feeding, guiding or caring which are all performed under the supervision of a trained mental health professional and a horse expert. 

According to the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH), which provides accreditations and certificates to centers and trainers, there were a total of 4,800 certified instructors and 881 riding centers across the globe in 2018. 

PATH is reported to have helped 66,000 children and adults with their physical and mental health every year. 

Effectiveness of equine therapy 

The effectiveness of equine therapy has been shown in a few studies, but the usage of this therapy is relatively new. 

A study which observed veterans with PTSD for a period of 8 weeks noted a decline in the symptoms of depression and PTSD. 

Another study reported that equine-assisted therapies have helped people with cerebral palsy and autism.

How equine therapy works

Research has shown the effectiveness of equine therapy in treating and managing numerous conditions like 

  • Anxiety 
  • Depression  
  • PTSD 
  • ADHD
  • Addiction 
  • Trauma 
  • Eating disorders 
  • Dementia
  • Down syndrome 

“Equine therapy can assist in self-effectiveness, trust, interactive abilities, and learn (to set) boundaries…At first we get the patient acquainted with the horse for a few sessions wherein the patient can groom the horse or take rounds with him or even feed him under the direction of the coach and psychologist,” explains psychologist Rasika Ghate of Calida Rehab. 

Horses are known to be very sensitive to human emotions and feelings and can therefore sense states of anxiety or depression in individuals. And horses, like other animals, reflect and respond to our emotions without being judgmental which makes us feel accepted with unconditional love.

Hence, interactions with horses through activities such as grooming or taking care of them enables clients to become empathetic and develop deep connections. Spending time with horses also shows an improvement in symptoms of depression and anxiety due to a significant reduction in the stress hormone called cortisol followed by an increase in oxytocin which boosts happiness and positive emotions. The therapist utilizes equine therapy combined with cognitive behavioral methods to address feelings that begin to surface. 

Apart from the clinical conditions mentioned above equine therapy helps in:

  • Increasing confidence 
  • Improving self esteem 
  • Building greater trust and confidence 
  • Bettering focus 
  • Reducing aggression 

Types of equine therapy

The equine-assisted therapy programs are divided into four broad categories. Here’s a list: 

  1. Hippotherapy

Hippotherapy is an approach which addresses problems related to the physical health of the client. It makes use of the movement of horses to help people with physical disabilities and neurological disorders. 

  1. Equine-assisted therapy 

Equine-assisted psychotherapy involves a psychotherapist and a horse expert. Both of them work as a team with the client in order to achieve the specific goals. These goals can be issues with an individual’s cognition, emotions and behavior. It is usually used as an adjunct to traditional psychotherapies. 

  1. Therapeutic horseback riding (THR)

This approach usually addresses both the physical and mental health of the client. The client is allowed to ride with a trained instructor to improve confidence and concentration. 

  1. Equine-assisted learning

It is an experiential approach which helps in the development of life skills. Such programs usually help people develop leadership skills, team building and focus more on the personal growth of an individual.

Who is it for

Equine-assisted therapy allows clients to open up and invites them to address their issues and is therefore popular among all the ages. It can be used effectively in group therapy and family therapy settings as well.

Advantages of equine therapy

  • Unbiased and safe space

Horses provide a multisensory experience sans judgment and bias. This enables the client to open up freely in such a safe space and experience breakthroughs in emotional wellness. 

  • Bonding in nature

EAT sessions are conducted outdoors and, ecotherapy or the act of being in nature has been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression and promote mindfulness. . 

  • Feedback and mirroring

Horses have a tendency to mimic their environment through their body language thereby reflecting the clients’ physical and emotional state. This creates a sense of self-awareness in the client and also helps the therapist to use it while they proceed further in a session. 

Places offering equine therapy in India

Equine therapy is gaining popularity in the US and a few European countries. However it is still in a nascent stage in India. But there are a few places where you can experience equine therapy in India. 

  1. Healing Horses

When talking about equine therapy in India,the first name that comes to mind is that of Pushpa Bopaiah. Known for her work with children with physical disabilities she is India’s first equine therapist and founder of Healing Horses, based in Bangalore. 

  1. Calida Rehab

Calida Rehab was formed by Dr. Prashant Dasud and Dr. Santosh Pawar in Pune and offers treatment plans for out patients as well. They have been running it since 2020. 

They offer:

  • equine-assisted psychotherapy 
  • hippotherapy 
  • therapeutic riding
  1. Miracle Equine Center

The center is based in Bangalore and run by Subhadra Cherukuri who is a certified horse assisted educator from the International Association for Horse Assisted Education (EAHAE). They incorporate various activities in the program to achieve the goals set up. They offer: 

  • equine assisted experiential learning programs for corporate and schools
  • horse riding skills and lessons
  • equine-assisted therapy for individuals
  1. Agram Riding and Polo Academy 

Located in Bangalore, this Academy conducts classes and workshops on weekends for specially abled children and provides therapy for all the ages. They aim to treat people with difficult physical and mental conditions through therapeutic horseback riding. 

  1. Manjeev Natural Horsemanship 

This center is run by Manjeev Chaudhary who is Asia’s only Monty Roberts certified instructor. Located in Gurgaon the center aims to strengthen human relationships through horses. They offer a variety of therapeutic and corporate programs and courses. 

While equine therapy might be a great method to club with regular therapy, it has a couple of drawbacks – it can be expensive and is subject to limited geographic availability. 

Equine therapy is an emerging method of treatment and there aren’t many trained therapists offering it yet. However, it’s an interesting alternative method to consider especially if you’re an animal lover.

Help support mental health

Every mind matters. Every donation makes a difference. Together, we can break down stigmas and create a more compassionate world.

Disclaimer: MyndStories is not a non-profit. We are a private limited company registered as Metta Media Pvt Ltd. We don't fall under Section 80G and hence you don't get a tax exemption for your contribution.