Equine Therapy

What is Equine Therapy?

Boy Staring At A Horse used in Equine TherapyEquine 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 riding (Hippotherapy) is very different from equine-assisted therapy. A client would not be referred to a riding program, they would be referred to an equine-assisted therapy program.

EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) and Natural Lifemanship are leaders in the industry and provide certification. While therapeutic riding has benefits for all, in general, it is more of a physical therapy than psychotherapy unless used in accordance to principles learned in Natural Lifemanship. In EAGALA there are no riding components.

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 patterns.  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
  • Woman participating in Equine TherapyAffection
  • 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.


About the author:

Jacquelyn Ekern

Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC – President and Founder of Eating Disorder Hope

Jacquelyn founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. As president, Jacquelyn manages Ekern Enterprises, Inc. and the Eating Disorder Hope website. In addition, she is a fully licensed therapist with a closed private counseling practice specializing in the treatment of eating disorders.

Jacquelyn has a Bachelor of Science in Human Services degree from The University of Phoenix and a Masters degree in Counseling/Psychology, from Capella University. She has extensive experience in the eating disorder field including advanced education in psychology, participation and contributions to additional eating disorder groups, symposiums, and professional associations. She is a member of the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), Academy of Eating Disorders (AED), the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (iaedp).

Jacquelyn enjoys art, working out, walking her golden retriever “Whisky”, reading, painting and time with family.
Although Eating Disorder Hope was founded by Jacquelyn Ekern, this organization would not be possible without support from our generous sponsors.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.


Published on April 21, 2012
Reviewed And Updated By:  Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 16, 2019.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com