“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
— Winston Churchill
People who spend time with horses know about their therapeutic power and how much better they can make you feel. Equine therapy is a widespread therapy practice today helping people in all walks of life, and it isn’t a new phenomenon either — in 600 B.C., the Ancient Greeks wrote about the value of riding for wellness. Equine Therapy started to gain prominence in North America in the 1960s.
The various forms of equine therapies work to promote physical, occupational and emotional wellness in people with all kinds of challenges: addiction, ADD/ADHD, anxiety, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Dementia, Depression, genetic syndromes (such as Down Syndrome), behavioral issues and many more.
Horses are attuned to stress and body language. They provide immediate feedback to their riders and have abilities to mirror the feelings of others. Some of the researched positive benefits of equine therapy include:
- Sense of empowerment
- Communication skills
- Emotional awareness
- Stress tolerance
- Impulse control
- Problem-solving skills
- Social responsibility
- Interpersonal relationships
The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International has 820 Member Centers, working to provide safety guidelines and training, certify therapeutic riding instructors and approve riding centers. PATH International helps and supports “54,000 men, women and children with special needs each year through a variety of equine-assisted activities and therapies programs.”
Riding instructors can learn about the certification process and become certified instructors through PATH International with a number of advanced education opportunities. William Woods University undergraduate students can take EQU211 Survey of Equine Assisted Therapies, a course designed to introduce students to all kinds of therapeutic riding, learning and therapies, as well as information on the certification process. Those interested in becoming a certified instructor can get started volunteering and working at therapy centers and obtain experience working with individuals with disabilities. Many aspiring instructors start out as side-walkers or leaders.
Therapy horses must have an exceptionally calm and patient temperament, soundness at all gaits and a low flight response. Trainers can learn skills to specialize in training therapy horses — such as training the horse to carry out exercises without being touched, training horse manners on the ground during grooming, tacking and leading, or exposure to various loud noises such as music or riders with enthusiasm.
Getting involved in equine therapy takes a special kind of person and a special kind of horse, and it makes a rewarding career that changes the lives of every horse and human involved.