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How Horses Help: An Overview of Equine Therapy

Maybe you’ve heard the terms ‘equine therapy,’ ‘therapeutic riding,’ or even ‘hippotherapy’ by now (hint, hippo is Greek for horse, not hippopotamus therapy). Did you wonder to yourself: “What does that even mean?” Well, you’re in the right place!

Year after year, I see kids and adults experience so many benefits from equine therapy, most commonly referred to as Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies. I’m always surprised that more people don’t know about it even though it’s one of the fastest growing experiential therapies today,

There are a few different kinds of EAAT, the most common being therapeutic horseback riding, hippotherapy, equine-assisted psychotherapy, and equine-assisted learning. [see sidebar for more information on each one]. Although each of these services have their own benefits, the horses throughout all of them teach participants respect, patience, discipline and compassion for the self and others.

Now for people living with special needs- such as disabilities or illnesses- horses can do even more than that. That’s where the therapy part comes in. Did you know that simply sitting on a horse is therapeutic for our bodies? How about how horses know what we’re feeling, just by looking at us? These are just two examples of why horses are amazing therapy partners- and I use the word ‘partners’ intentionally because every type of Equine Assisted Activity or Therapy is rooted in the horse and human partnership.

Horses Help, an acclaimed therapeutic riding center here in Arizona, was founded with a passion for that partnership. As one of the only PATH Premiere Accredited Centers in the state, they are the leading experts in all things Equine Therapy. Located in Phoenix, they serve around 150 people a week, are home to a herd of 17 horses, and host certifications and education opportunities for the entire country. After spending time with their clients and riders, I noticed across the board that working with horses helped their participants in:

  • increasing strength and stamina
  • improving fine and gross motor skills
  • enhancing focus
  • developing discipline
  • teaching determination
  • self-awareness
  • empathy
  • independence
  • self-confidence

Common Types of Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies:

Adaptive and Therapeutic Riding- learning how to ride horses

Teaching horseback riding to someone living with a disability is not as simple as it sounds. PATH Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructors go through special training to develop the knowledge, preparation and skill for the job. For more information, visit: www.pathintl.org.

Hippotherapy- using the horses movement to aid other therapies

Used in tandem with occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech-language pathology, there’s a mountain of scientific data that proves just how beneficial this therapy is. For more information, visit: www.americanhippotherapyassociation.org.

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy- horses and mental health

Mounted or unmounted, what matters here are the clients’ thoughts and feelings- not horsemanship or horseback riding skills.

Equine Assisted Learning- horses and skill-building

Mounted or unmounted, any and all goals that horses support are welcome here- including the personal, professional, and vocational.

With COVID-19 making most therapies virtual, it’s more important now than ever that equine therapy services are available for those who need them. On Saturday, November 7th, Horses Help is hosting “Barn Bash 2020,” where you can learn more about equine therapy and have the chance to win free services and opportunities to make your other horse dreams come true (like weekend getaways, local lessons, custom wineries, and breedings) from the comfort of your own home – just for tuning in! For more information, please visit www.horseshelp.org.

Read More: Horses Help Virtual Barn Bash 2020

Regan Mays is an Arizona native, and lifelong horsewoman. She is a specialist in Equine Assisted Therapy, actress and producer. She PATH Certified in Therapeutic Riding Instruction and an Equine Specialist in Mental Health. She is the TR Program Director at the H.E.A.R.T Center. For more information, visit www.reganmays.com or follow her on Instagram @reganmmays.

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