How Time Spent With Horses Can Be Good For Your Mental Health

Written by Neisha Potter on January 25, 2020

Fern Ridge Counseling is certified in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning offering equine assisted mental health interventions in support of the success of this evidenced based practice. Both professionally and personally, horses have phenomenal psychological benefits and can be excellent for self-care practices. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is a new innovative modality for mental health treatment. It is an evidence based practice that incorporates horses into the therapeutic process. We already know that animals have manifested into extraordinary emotional support animals for companionship and therapeutic benefits. Animals can assist in alleviating emotional distress and also serve individuals with physical disability. Studies have shown that interacting with animals helps decrease stress hormones in the body, thus improving your mood.

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) and Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) can be effective for all ages and an assortment of life’s challenges. EAP exercises can address different therapeutic concerns such as trauma and PTSD. Additionally, equine therapy can improve anxiety, depression, boundary issues, self-esteem, confidence, help rebuild trust, bonding, empathy, improve social skills, problem solving and much more. This modality provides an opportunity for the therapist and the client to experience real life challenges, frustrations, and emotions as they arise in real time settings. Horses are excellent for mirroring emotions, an excellent use of symbolism and metaphors, and many other benefits. Horses provide immediate feedback, requires vulnerability from the client, and provides an opportunity for the client to experience personal revelation.

Using equine therapy for mental health benefits is more than just petting or mounting the horse. There are exercises to assist in self discovery and opportunity to experience victories with the horse, thus improving intricacies such as low self-esteem. Some exercises include catching and haltering a horse, picking a horse from the herd and identifying how the clients emotions are observable in the horse’s behavior. Focusing on the horses behavior can generate insight to your own thoughts and emotions and encourage relaxation practices in real time. Some studies suggest individuals who struggle with anxiety and social skills gain a tremendous amount of growth due to the horse’s mirroring and feedback. This helps create a sense of personal awareness and an opportunity to put interventions into practice.

EAP is also helpful for individuals who struggle with trauma and PTSD. People who experience any type of trauma can have difficulty establishing trust and being vulnerable. Both of these emotions are essential to the therapeutic practice with horses, yet a safe environment for such exploration. Horses are non-judgemental, unbiased, and forgiving animals. Horses do not know your past, your mistakes, your shame, and do not care about your appearance. Horses care about your personal behavior and the emotional energy that they feel as you engage with them. Because of the horses behavioral response to your emotions, this intervention has the potential of improving mindfulness and personal awareness.

Horses can provoke emotions in you, such as anxiety, self-doubt, and uncertainty, however, what better way than to work with the therapist as you experience these emotions. Avoidance of experiences cause these emotions to get worse, therefore, exposure to something that encourages these emotions is a great step toward working through them. With the emotional support of the horse and your therapist, you can take back your control and improve the quality of your life.

Take psychotherapy and counseling out of the office and into the arena and the great outdoors. Start achieving personal growth through equine assisted psychotherapy with horses and engage all of your senses.

EAP is covered by some insurances and generally requires a prior authorization. If your insurance does not cover EAP or if you do not have insurance, ask your mental health facility about a sliding scale option.

There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man – Winston Churchill

Neisha Potter
Neisha Potter is a happily married mother of four children with extraordinary compassion. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Florida, with well-rounded professional experience including the areas of physical and mental disabilities, substance abuse recovery, long term care, mental health and now operates her own private practice, Fern Ridge Counseling, LLC.