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Equine Therapy

What is Equine Therapy?

Equine Therapy, or Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) is a form of psychotherapy in which horses are utilized as tools for a man or woman to develop greater self-understanding and assist in emotional growth.  Equine Therapy is a form of animal assisted therapy, an aspect of mental health that acknowledges the bond between animals and humans in addition to the opportunity for emotional healing that can occur when a relationship is initiated between two species, such as human and horse.

Therapeutic Horseback Riding came to both the United States and Canada in 1960 with the configuration of the Community Association of Riding of the Disabled.  In 1969, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) was created with the purpose of serving as an advisory board to the various riding for the disabled groups within the United States.  The NARHA established safety guidelines and training, certifies therapeutic riding instructors, and accredits therapeutic riding centers with rigorous standards.  Today, many eating disorder therapists and professionals recognize the benefits of equine therapy as a method of improving lives and refer patients to riding programs.

Equine therapy involves horse activities which are set up and facilitated by a licensed mental health professional and the support of a horse professional.  Many of these activities are carried out on the ground, as opposed to riding, and encompass such things as feeding, grooming, haltering, and leading the horse.  Throughout the process of engaging and working with the horse, the therapist and patient will often connect in a therapy session, process emotions, and discuss behaviors and patters.  The fundamental goal of equine therapy is for the patient to build skills such as self-assurance, courage, responsibility, self-control, and improve confidence.

Types of Equine Therapy

Equine Therapy has many interchangeable terms, which all involve the use of horses, and are as follows:

  • Equine-assisted therapy (EAT)
  • Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP)
  • Equine-assisted learning (EAL)
  • Equine-facilitated learning (EFL)
  • Equine-facilitated psychotherapy (EFP)

Components of Equine Therapy

The unique bond that evolves between patient and horse involves the following characteristics:

  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Communication skills
  • Assertiveness
  • Affection
  • Empathy
  • Confidence
  • Self-control
  • Acceptance
  • Mutual trust

Uses of Equine Therapy

There are many specific uses for equine therapy.  Troubled teens or men and women suffering from mental health disorders are often able to find healing through programs that offer equine therapy.  This therapy is helpful in that it allows patients the possibility of establishing self-awareness; develop better relationships and non-verbal communication skills.  Equine therapy is also beneficial in the recovery process from eating disorders as it allows for the unconditional acceptance that many sufferers often long for.  Patients in treatment for an eating disorder that are exposed to equine therapy may have the increased potential to process difficult emotions or memories through this healing outlet.  A horse can also serve as an influential impression on an individual who has dealt with negative body image and low-self esteem, as the care and nurture of a creature is often an empowering experience.  Equine therapy has also shown to be advantageous for patients dealing with other psychosocial issues and mental health needs such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, psychiatric disorders, behavior difficulties, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 3, 2017

Page last updated: April 3, 2017
Published on, Resources for Eating Disorders

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