What are the benefits of equine-assisted therapy in rehab?

Many of us are aware of the mental health benefits of interacting with animals.

Statistics show the physical health benefits of having an animal such as a cat or a dog – for example, stroking a cat is good for heart health and helps to reduce stress significantly.

Animal-assisted therapy

Animal assisted therapy

Over the years, rehabilitation centres have widely recognized animal-assisted therapy’s benefits in drug and alcohol addiction treatment.

Horse therapy or equine therapy is especially effective in helping people change and modify negative behaviours in the addiction recovery process.

Addiction treatment equine therapy

Horse therapy is an experiential, holistic therapy where people collaborate with a horse, an expert horse handler, and a therapist.

The focus of therapy is to carry out essential tasks such as grooming, feeding, and leading the horse.

People do not usually ride horses during equine-assisted therapy sessions.

Equine therapy sessions

Equine therapy sessions usually occur in small groups, where people get given specific tasks and obstacles to overcome.

Once the therapy sessions are over, individuals have the chance to discuss their experiences and emotions with an equine therapist.

Horse therapy

Essentially, equine-assisted therapy helps people learn more about themselves, develop new ways of thinking, shift unhelpful ideas or perceptions, and change negative beliefs and behaviours.

Treating addictions

Equine therapy programs often get used as part of an addiction support program in rehabilitation facilities.

Equine-assisted therapy seeks to help those wanting to overcome substance abuse issues with alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.

What is the objective of equine-assisted therapy work?

What is the objective of equine-assisted therapy

Equine therapy focuses on many different areas that help people develop new skills and acquire a different approach to problem-solving in general.

Mental health programs such as horse therapy help people to focus on becoming comfortable with the horse, overcoming any uneasiness, and establishing a good rapport by developing and nurturing their relationship with the horse.

Equine therapy and skill -set building

Many people attest that working with animals can be fun, but it can also be challenging at times! Horses are no different.

Since horses can be temperamental, working with horses helps people improve their skill-set by developing patience, discipline, understanding, and responsibility.

Equine therapy benefits

There are many benefits of equine-assisted therapy, particularly for emotional issues.

Assisted therapy is a beautiful support treatment for those with a wide range of physical and mental health issues such as:

  • Eating disorders
  • Dissociative disorders
  • ADHD autism
  • High blood pressure
  • Substance addiction
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Equine-assisted activities

Horse-assisted therapy helps people develop problem-solving, accountability, self-control, and communication skills.

Furthermore, equine therapy helps to improve self-awareness, self-esteem, flexibility, empathy, and independence.

Horse riding

Horseback riding can be a part of equine-assisted activities. However, therapy involves much more than just riding horses.

Equine therapy also involves:

  • Ground-work
  • Interacting with the horse
  • Feeding
  • Grooming
  • Horse leading
  • Ranch assistance
  • Interactive vaulting

Additional benefits of equine therapy

Who benefits from equine-assisted therapy

Research suggests that equine-assisted therapy is an effective way to treat addiction since it allows people to explore their capabilities and establish new ways of thinking and thus helps to modify any destructive behaviours.

For instance, when people enter addiction treatment such as equine-assisted therapy, they may start to notice negative patterns or self-defeating behaviours which may have contributed to their addiction.

Developing self-awareness and building self-esteem allows people to take steps to overcome any limited self-beliefs or attitudes.

Emotional regulation

Working with horses or other animals can help people to 

regulate their emotions.

Those who have issues with impulse control learn to remain calm and develop the ability to improve their problem-solving skills.

In addition to substance abuse, equine-assisted therapy helps people broaden their skill sets in other areas and is proven effective for further developing their social skills, developing more positive relationships, and enjoying better mental health.

Drug and alcohol treatment

Equine therapists explain that horse therapy can be a tremendous support treatment for drug and alcohol treatment at a treatment centre.

Since horses are naturally calm and gentle animals, a client’s interaction with a horse is likely to be a pleasant experience.

Horse’s behavior

Horses are fantastic at mirroring and responding to humans in a safe environment that is non-judgmental.

All this allows patients to trust horses, which can be invaluable to those who have had bad experiences in their relationships.

Addiction treatment

Mental health experts have long spoken about emotional trauma and its connection to addiction.

Those with substance abuse issues may learn to cultivate self-acceptance, develop trust, and long-term recovery from addiction by being around horses.

Therapy session

People who struggle to articulate their thoughts and feelings often find equine therapy profoundly helpful since they find they can express their emotions during a therapy session around their horse.

Moreover, people with trust and intimacy problems in their relationships can learn to develop a bond and closeness to their horse and thus experience connection, affection, and mutual respect.

Who benefits from equine-assisted therapy?

People of all ages and backgrounds benefit from horse therapy.

The advantage of equine therapy is that it can get used in various settings such as counselling and group therapy.

Equine-assisted psychotherapy is usually not the sole form of treatment. Instead, equine therapy is a complementary treatment to be used with other traditional therapies and mental health treatment.

What mental disorders does equine therapy help to treat?

Equine therapy supports people who are already getting treated for a wide range of mental disorders such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Trauma
  • PTSD
  • Substance abuse

Equine therapy offers people a therapeutic platform that feels less threatening and more interactive, and inviting than traditional therapies.

Horse therapy is especially beneficial for children who often find it difficult to express themselves and process painful experiences and emotions.

Benefits of horse therapy in treatment recovery

According to anxiety expert Dr. Robin Zasio, there are many benefits of equine therapy for mental health treatment, some of which are listed below:

#1. Mirroring and feedback

Like most animals, horses are fantastic observers and are incredibly attuned to movement and emotion.

In practice, they often mirror a patient’s behaviour and emotions, cultivating connection and compassion that allows the patient to feel safe.

Equine therapy allows the patient to uphold a sense of self-awareness by using the horse’s interactions and behaviour for feedback, which helps the individual monitor what is happening in any given moment and use the horse as a benchmark to their responses and emotions.

#2. Non-judgmental

One of the treatment goals of all therapists is to cultivate a non-judgmental atmosphere for patients.

Therapists work hard to ensure a safe space for clients to feel comfortable enough to explore emotions and painful experiences. However, it can be challenging for people to open up and be vulnerable with a stranger, especially before establishing a rapport.

Equine therapy offers calm and understanding as horses react to patients’ behaviours and emotions without threat or judgment. Hence, people can explore their feelings without worrying about others’ reactions.

#3. The capacity to manage vulnerability

Having horses present during therapy can be an excellent way for people to use the horse as an example, particularly in cases where individuals have a hard time expressing how they feel.

Human emotion

For instance, a patient may align their experiences with the horse’s experiences in the moment; they may even use the horse as an example.

When patients externalize their experiences, it makes it easier to work through challenging emotions and utilize a different approach to unhelpful behaviour patterns.

Rehabilitation center


Drug and alcohol addiction is a prevalent problem across the globe.

According to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, over 70,000 people in the United States died from drug overdoses in 2017.

Most of those deaths resulted from the opioid crisis, with 50,000 deaths related to opioid use.

The need for effective therapies and treatments for substance addiction is growing exponentially, with many rehabilitation centres responding as well as they can to the addiction epidemic.

Co-occurring conditions

Fortunately, treatments such as equine-assisted therapy offer a unique approach to substance addiction and co-occurring conditions.

Those with a dual -diagnosis (people who struggle with addiction and a mental health disorder) can access the type of care that seeks to resolve alcohol or drug dependency and the root cause.

With the help of a treatment team, patients can access treatment and care that covers all verticals of addiction support and recovery.

If you think you or someone you know would benefit from equine-assisted therapy, why not contact one of our specialists to find out more.

Don Lavender

Don specialized in addiction studies, earning an MDiv and a master's in Management, Administration, and Counseling. As a priest, he supported Step 5s in local treatment centers for nearly 40 years, excelling in "family systems work" in the addiction field.

Additionally, Don pioneered equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) in the US and UK during the 1990s. He authored "Equine Utilized Psychotherapy: Dance with those that run with laughter" and gained media recognition, including appearances on 'the Trisha Show' and features in The Daily Telegraph.

In the early 2000s, Don and his wife, Meena, founded Camino Recovery in Spain, providing tailored addiction treatment programs aimed at fostering happier lives.

More from Don Lavender

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