How Equine Assisted Therapy Can Support Addiction Recovery

Equine Assisted Therapy is an animal-assisted therapy program designed to help clients develop trust, relationships, responsibility and other interpersonal skills that may have been damaged by addiction. 

But just what is equine assisted therapy and how does it work? Moreover, how can therapy with horses support those recovering from addiction? Read on to learn more about equine assisted therapy and how it helps support you (or your loved one) along their addiction recovery.

What is Equine Assisted Therapy

Also known as Horse-Assisted Therapy or Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, Equine Assisted Therapy is an innovative and experimental form of therapy designed to help clients form an organic, genuine, and heartfelt connection with a horse. By building a true connection to their horse, clients are able to develop essential relationship skills—such as active-listening, empathy, emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and team-building skills—in a relationship that is, in itself, non-judgmental and accepting.

Treating physical and mental health issues with equestrian, or “horse-riding” activities, dates back to the ancient Greeks, when hippo-therapy, as it was then called, was used to provide therapeutic aid for those suffering from incurable diseases. Hippo-therapy, as it is currently practiced, was developed in the 1960s, when it was used to complement traditional physical therapy. It’s since been adapted to treat human psychological problems, and is used as a modality (referred to as “equine assisted psychotherapy”) to help those who suffer from habitual-behaviors that compromise their health or happiness.

How Does Equine Assisted Therapy Work

Equine assisted therapy begins with the client choosing their own horse-companion. The horses in the program come in a range of sizes and from a range of backgrounds so the clients have many options for picking a partner that best suits them. Working with an equine therapy assistant, the client is then guided to develop a relationship with their horse, through a series of sessions.

Clients will typically begin with ground-work in a round pen with the horse free to make choices and respond to the client at will, meaning the horse is not tied up or restrained in any fashion. Once they have built a mutual trusting relationship, they will progress to mounting and riding the horse. At every session, clients are encouraged and supported to create a positive, authentic relationship with their companion—and are given practical exposure to overcoming obstacles that occur in any relationship without relying on drugs or alcohol.

How Equine Assisted Therapy Can Support Addiction Treatment

Equine assisted psychotherapy works in part because of horses’ natural ability to pick up on human expressions, emotions, and needs. By being so perceptive to their human-partner, horses are able to respond to these human emotions—such as fear, anger, despair, or agitation—in a non-judgmental way, but also with the goal of keeping themselves safe. This can help clients who have destructive relationship patterns—often caused by addiction—to see their cycle and make different choices to form a unique and wholehearted bond with their horse—a relationship that can help them to heal emotionally. This work can then empower them to let go of many of the destructive behaviors that may be impeding their progress. It can also help them develop new, constructive behaviors and coping tools that enable them to develop sustainable relationships with people that can help them on their healing journey.

By learning to acknowledge and empathize with their horse companions, equine assisted therapy clients can learn how to care for their horse, as well as themselves. Moreover, by developing a newfound relationship that is both non-judgmental and rooted in mutual understanding and connection, clients are better able to cope with the negative effects of withdrawal and to more fully engage in treatment. This can lead to an increase in a client’s confidence and a restored sense of optimism.

Discover The Last Resort Recovery Difference

The Last Resort offers an equine assisted therapy program as part of our 40-90 day addiction treatment programs. Time and again, we’ve seen how this innovative and proven therapy-method helps our residents’ express themselves and connect with others more openly—laying the foundation for a successful and stable recovery.

Considering enrolling in an addiction rehabilitation program in Austin, Texas? Interested in learning more about our equine-therapy program? Contact The Last Resort Recovery today to find out more about our proven, effective substance abuse treatment programs and find out what we can do to help you along your recovery journey!

Watch this short video to learn more about our equine assisted therapy program.