The development of treatments for service-related health conditions such as PTSD, depression, and TBI has notably progressed. A study published in the Medical Research Review recently stated that “The formidable challenges associated with US Veteran polytraumatic injuries warrants the application of interventions, such as equine-assisted interventions.”
We know that using horses to help people recover from physical, mental, and emotional afflictions has been used for at least 2500 years. Hippocrates, the “Father of Modern Medicine,” wrote about using horses for people with such issues. (Today, “Hippo-Therapy” is one form of treatment used by Equine (Horse) Therapists.)
The benefits of using horses is due to their particular nature and discernment abilities. Typically, horses are not judgmental, and are highly effective in detecting and mirroring human emotions and behavior. Since 1990, scientific research has shown that in the care and feeding of horses, gaining a horse’s trust, and developing a mutual emotional attachment, people who have suffered trauma and injuries often regain and maintain greater physical fitness and enhanced mobility, including a positive state of mind that leads to happier, more productive, and fulfilling lives.
Equine Therapy is being used today in a myriad of treatment programs for PTSD, abuse, dementia, addictions, behavioral and emotional issues, as well as learning and speech disorders. It is also effective for children with special needs, and in assisting people with neurological and movement disorders, such as people affected by paralysis, and cerebral palsy. The rhythmical gait of a horse creates a pelvic motion which simultaneously promotes strength, balance, coordination, flexibility, posture, and mobility. Equine therapists guide the rider’s posture and actions by controlling the horses’ speed, and direction. This decreases the limitations and increases the mobility of those afflicted with movement disabilities.
Modern Therapeutic Riding started with Liz Hartel from Denmark. She was the Danish dressage champion in 1943 and 1944. Then, at age 23, she contracted polio, which permanently paralyzed her below the knees, as well as affecting her arms and hands. Despite the insistence of doctors that she could never ride again, she was determined. Although needing assistance to get upon a horse and saddle, she relearned how to ride and to maintain her balance. Amazingly, Liz Hartel was able to win the Silver medal for dressage in the 1952 Olympic Games!
Equine assisted-therapy professionals work with veterans to create meaningful bonds between the themselves and their horses. This is accomplished by the caring, feeding, and grooming of horses. Therapeutic riding creates a natural sense of calm as riders feel the rocking motion of a horse. A bonding between the rider and the horse quickly develops. This helps therapists to identify riders’ emotional and behavioral pattens. Horses are “mirrors” for human emotion; they act the way we act. By showing patients their own emotions reflected in horses, equine therapists can identify anger, depression, and other causes of psychosomatic stress, that lead to destructive activity such as drinking in excess or the misuse of drugs. By helping patients to identify how their own actions and emotions work, equine therapy programs give patients the tools to stay in long term recovery.
Volunteers are almost always welcome at Equine Therapy Centers, and classes from schools and other groups too. But these visits usually need to be arranged in advance. These centers require hard work and long hours for all of their staff. They are always striving to accomplish miracles! Sometimes they must focus and cannot be disturbed.
If you want to become an equine therapist, there are a variety of modalities from which you can choose to become certified. Path Intl and Eagala are the premier organizations for training and certification in equine therapy.
Here in San Diego, my charity, Patriotic Hearts, works with The Armed Forces YMCA’s Horse of the Sun Ranch. Miracles happen there! And lives are changed for the better. The staff are amazing! Like all great coaches and teachers, they seem to have been gifted at birth to work with horses and to heal people. It is a wondrous dynamic!
Also, if you would like to help us in helping to rescue and care for horses, please reach out to us and let us know:
Mark Baird/ 760-847-2561