Animals have been incorporated into therapies for a variety of conditions. Therapy dogs, for example, are common in senior citizen centers, nursing homes, and hospitals, where they are used to brighten the days of patients confined to their beds or hospital rooms for extended treatments. The use of horses in equine therapy is currently a growing trend in addiction recovery. Therapists have discovered that connecting recovering addicts with a horse allows that addict to get outside into open air and to focus on caring for and relating to something outside of his or her own internal demands for substances.
Equine therapy teaches a recovering addict to take care of a horse’s basic food, grooming and exercise needs. The recovering addict might also learn basic horsemanship skills, including saddling, riding, and controlling the horse. Horses that are used in addiction recovery equine therapy are typically older and tamer. Many of them have been transferred into a therapy arena as a form of retirement, after serving on farms or ranches.
Equine therapy is not limited to recovering addicts. The famed autism specialist, Temple Grandin, has advocated incorporating animal care into autism therapy. Individuals suffering from depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorders will also benefit from interactions with a gentle, older horse. Certified equine therapists note that equine therapy gives patients immediate feedback, as the horse is perceptive enough to sense the patient’s feelings and to respond to those feelings without reservation. Equine therapy also provides unparalleled opportunities for patients to learn from and to develop a trust relationship with another living being. That trust relationship is devoid of any judgment of a patient’s history, which creates a comfort level that a recovering addict might not find within a relationship with another person.
One of the basic tenets of addiction recovery is changing a recovering addict’s focal point. Drug addicts and alcoholics become increasingly self-centered as they sink deeper into their addictions. Feeding their own needs and addictions becomes the center of their lives to the exclusion of everyone and everything else around them. 12-step addiction recovery programs and other recovery therapies generally include some level of counseling that moves the addict’s focus away from himself and toward helping other people while he receives his own help to break his addictions. Recovering addicts who are unable to develop easy relationships with other people often have an easier time creating connections with animals, and particularly with horses.
Equine therapy is usually one facet of a broader addiction recovery program. It is not a replacement for behavioral therapy and counseling, but it can be a key component of that counseling. Recovering addicts who reject direct feedback from therapists might find it easier to accept and acknowledge the more subtle feedback and clues that they receive from horses. When that feedback is examined in greater detail during therapy sessions, the recovering addict is better able to incorporate all aspects of his recovery program into a unified whole that places him squarely on a path to sobriety.
Equine therapy is offered by certified equine therapists who work in close coordination with addiction recovery centers. If you have any questions about equine therapy or you would like to explore how equine therapy can help you with your own addiction problems, please contact the staff and counselors at the Lead Recovery Center at 1-800-380-0012. We have worked with equine therapy centers and have direct experience with the benefits of this unique and growing therapy option.