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Is Equine Therapy Effective for Treating Trauma?

Horses are beautiful creatures, highly respected for their simultaneous grace and power. They are often referred to as majestic animals because of their size and unique ability to bond with humans. Horses and humans can connect deeply, especially when there is mutual respect. This deep connection has resulted in a therapeutic approach called equine therapy, which therapists use as an innovative way of treating trauma. Before we can delve into the details of how equine therapy can aid in healing trauma, we first need to discuss what trauma is and why it needs to be healed.

What Is Trauma?

The National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines trauma as, “an event or circumstance resulting in physical harm, emotional harm, and/or or life-threatening harm.”

Continuing, “The event or circumstance has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s:

SAMHSA goes on to describe, “Trauma has no boundaries regarding age, gender, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Trauma is a common experience for adults and children in American communities, and it is especially common in the lives of people with mental and substance use disorders.”

Unfortunately, trauma is more common than we like to think. The tricky thing about trauma is that it’s subjective, meaning that two people can experience the same event and only one of them may deem it as traumatizing. As a result, trauma can be difficult to identify, especially if it remains unresolved.

Meanwhile, unresolved trauma may manifest as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While symptoms of PTSD will vary for each person, common symptoms include:

PTSD can develop at any time following a traumatic experience, even years down the road. 

Treating Trauma

Even though trauma can have a profound impact on our lives, the good news is that healing is possible! Trauma can be treated with the guidance and support of trained professionals. 

The most common way to treat trauma is through psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy. Psychotherapy allows the patient to express their complicated feelings and emotions, while a licensed mental health professional helps them healthily process it all. 

Evidence-based psychotherapy techniques usually include:

The nice thing about psychotherapy is that it does not have to be confined to a doctor’s office. Sometimes psychotherapy is practiced in a treatment center, a therapist’s office, via telehealth, or outside.

How Equine Therapy Aids in Treating Trauma

Another less-known form of psychotherapy is equine therapy. As a publication by NursingOpen describes, “This concept of equine‐assisted therapies using horses as healers is best depicted as a horse–human interaction used as a complementary, alternative or integrative intervention incorporating physical and psychosocial experiences facilitating situations, treatments and activities with the goal of a positive health outcome.”

In equine therapy, a licensed mental health professional incorporates horses into their psychotherapy sessions. They teach the patient how to properly care for the horse and build a mutual relationship of trust and understanding. This can be beneficial for people who have a difficult time building relationships with other people because, with a horse, there aren’t pressures of social norms or conversation. The patient is allowed to express themselves freely without judgment while also practicing their vulnerability and relational skills. 

Creating a safe space to share difficult feelings and emotions can help relieve the symptoms of some mental disorders, such as anxiety and PTSD. As a result, patients who usually live in constant fight-or-flight may learn that they can trust the outside world again. They can gain control over their reality and how they let the trauma affect them. Eventually, these experiences can be carried over into relationships with humans, improving community and overall well-being.

Physical and Social Benefits of Treating Trauma Through Equine Therapy

The aforementioned publication in NursingOpen also discusses some physiological benefits that have been experienced in humans participating in equine therapy, particularly after riding a horse. These benefits include:

Furthermore, the journal Autism and Developmental Disorders found that equine therapy can have the following psychosocial benefits:

How Sage Recovery Can Help

Here at Sage Recovery, we use equine therapy to help our patients heal healthily from the hard things they’ve been through. Whether they need healing from mental disorders, substance abuse, or trauma, we use our innovative techniques, such as equine therapy, to help our patients heal healthily. We are proud of our innovative approaches and oftentimes combine them with evidence-based techniques to create complementary treatments

Equine therapy may be used along with techniques such as:

Having an array of treatment options helps us create customized treatment plans for our patients, according to their interests, history, and goals for recovery.

Treating trauma may feel intimidating, especially if you don’t know where to start. Luckily, we’re here to help. Here at Sage Recovery, we use innovative techniques, such as equine therapy, to help our patients heal from the hard things they’ve been through. This is done by practicing holistic techniques that feed the body, mind, and spirit. As a result, our master’s level clinicians are extensively trained in various treatment approaches, as well as providing trauma-informed care. This allows us to create customized treatment plans for our patients, so they can heal healthily. If you’re ready to start your healing journey, reach out to us at (512) 306-1394. We’re here for you.