How Horses Help with our Mental Health

Aug 13, 2020 | Self

At the age of 3 I shouted to my mom “now I can go horse riding!” after using the potty myself. The rest is history. Yet 21 years later I am still in awe of horses not just for their beauty, but also how they have impacted my life for the better.

I have always felt that there was something special, empowering, and peaceful about being around horses. Once I walk into the stables or lay my eyes on a horse in a field, all of my worries, stress, and anxiety disappear.

I enter an uninterrupted state of flow for the three hours I spend petting, grooming, and exercising my horse. More than riding itself, I enjoy the pure company of a horse by just looking each other in the eyes with unconditional love.

Recently my horse took up a new part-time role working side by side with an Equine-Assisted psychotherapist. Although I haven’t taken part in equine therapy myself, I have still experienced first-hand how these beautiful creatures can positively impact our mental health. After talking more with the therapist about her practice, I was inspired to look at the role horses can play in healing our mental health through Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT).

What is Equine-Assisted Therapy?

Whilst horsemanship focuses on mastering the necessary skills needed for horse riding, the main focus of EAT is for the client to develop the skills to manage a horse psychologically. In its core, EAT is an experiential form of therapy which aids emotional growth and learning.

Equine therapy has been used for several years to help children and adults with a wide variety of mental health issues from ADHD, autism, eating disorders, to depression and anxiety. During EAT clients interact with the horse in numerous ways by grooming, petting, feeding, leading and riding it around the yard, which all help develop the clients self-awareness and -efficacy, patience, attention, compassion, and responsibility.

In addition, by interacting with the horse, clients become more aware of their own behaviour, feelings, and ways of thinking, which lead to a better understanding of not only the horse, but also themselves as well as other people and social interactions.

How do horses help us?

Horses are sensitive herd animals who are very receptive to their surrounding environment. They are constantly scanning for a potential threat, whilst communicating amongst each other with the slightest changes in body language such as a turn of an ear or a flick of the tail.

Due to their level of awareness, honesty, and non-verbal communication abilities, horses make an effective agent of change, because they are able to mirror human body language and sense our true emotions that we may otherwise be unaware of. Therefore, during a therapy session the client receives immediate feedback from the horse to learn how to adjust themselves or their behaviour in order to receive a different response from the animal.

For example, when my horse works with ADHD clients who may be too loud or abrupt in their movements, he withdraws from the situation by turning away. This communicates to the client to adjust their behaviour and to approach the horse more calmly, and then they will be rewarded with a positive reciprocation in the form of curiosity and eye-contact from the horse.

Moreover, due to the large and powerful stature of the horse, many individuals find them intimidating and sometimes scary. Therefore horses make for a great opportunity for clients to also practice overcoming their fears and develop self-confidence, which can be applied to real-life situations, too.

Final thoughts

Horses have been the most valuable teachers in my life, especially my horse Twan with whom I have grown up through my teenage years into adulthood. He’s been my rock throughout otherwise (mentally) turbulent times holding me accountable, gently grounding me whenever my anxious thoughts wanted to take over me, or check me if I was starting to become a bit too big-headed.

I would love to revisit the topic of equine therapy further in future posts as there is still so much for me to learn from these beautiful creatures. However, for now, if you’re interested in this topic, I have linked the following insightful TED-talks about the horse’s power to help us heal from trauma, and become more mindful and empowered individuals. Enjoy!

Further resources:

How horses heal, transform, and empower

Wisdom of the herd

Horses Help Humans Be Real, Honest, and Present

A marketing professional in tech by day, Lilli finds a creative release in exploring and writing about her perfectly imperfect human experience on muija. With heart and soul, she is learning how to navigate this life, and in sharing her stories Lilli hopes to inspire others to follow their curiosity, too.


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