Equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) make use of partnering with horses to help promote emotional and physical growth. EAAT are particularly useful for people who have ADD, anxiety, autism, dementia, delay in mental development, down syndrome, other genetic disorders, depression, traumatic brain injuries, behavioral disorders, and various other physical disabilities.
Horses and History
Humans have been utilizing horses in a therapeutic capacity since at least 600 BCE, but it didn’t take off in the United States until the year 1960, with the founding of the Community Association of Riding for the Disabled (CARD). That organization promoted the use of horses as both a form of recreation and a form of therapy for people with disabilities in the United States and Canada.
Photo credit: All photos used with permission of PATH Intl.
In 1969, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH Intl.) was formed to better regulate horse-related activities for people with disabilities. PATH Intl. provides training and certification for instructors and accreditation for equestrian facilities wishing to run an equine therapy program.
Why Equines for Therapy
Horses are one of the most popular therapy animals for several reasons. Horses have the ability to immediately respond to the actions or behaviors of their riders, which allows patients to get instantaneous feedback from their horse. Also, horses are particularly good at mirroring the emotions of the humans around them. The ability of horses to respond to social cues in ways similar to humans allows patients to form a rapid and profound connection with them.
People with cognitive, psychomotor and behavioral disabilities have responded well when therapeutic horsemanship is taught by qualified professionals. Hippotherapy can be combined with speech, occupational, or traditional physical therapy without making patients feel as though they are participating in a typical therapy session.
EAAT help participants learn things like impulse control, social skills, and communication skills. Horses also allow people with disabilities to gain confidence and generally feel better about themselves and their accomplishments.
As a totally blind rider myself, horses helped me with balance, coordination, and proprioception, and awareness of body positioning including posture and equilibrium. Growing up, I couldn’t participate in most traditional sports. I took part in them to a point, but I would never become a varsity level athlete and was unable to participate in team sports. Thanks to excellent riding instructors, I did learn to become a decent equestrian. I took pride in my equine-related accomplishments, which helped me cope with the awkward time that is adolescence. Horses even helped me on my path to an eventual grown-up career in the service animal field, which I will discuss in a later blog post.
Equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) may not necessarily involve horseback riding. Many participants feel intimidated by the horse’s size at first, so most therapy programs teach lessons on grooming, groundwork, and basic horse safety. Riding is an important component for patients who feel comfortable around their equine partner.
EAAT are tailored to the needs of individual participants. Participants may engage in play or talk EAAT. The therapist or instructor may ask patients with physical disabilities to perform various exercises on horseback to improve balance, core strength and coordination. It all depends on the needs and goals of the participant and their medical team.
Safety is always a concern with any form of animal-assisted activity. In the case of therapeutic horse programs, participants are generally required to wear helmets, boots, or other gear when working around the horses. Participants who ride often do so on a lead line with a trained horse leader and their horse team may also include trained side walkers, other persons trained to walk alongside the horse to prevent falls and help the rider as needed.
EAAT provide a safe and beneficial experience for patients with physical, learning, or mental health difficulties. For more information on horse-related therapeutic activities, feel free to visit the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International at PATH International (www.pathintl.org)
Therapeutic Horses Helping People
Formula 707®, is honored to support and bring awareness to equine-assisted therapy programs and believes that these beautiful, majestic animals we love serve a greater purpose for many. Formula 707 knows that the health and wellness of therapy horses are very important. Therapy horses tend to be ridden multiple times a day and are often senior horses donated to the organization at the end of their competitive careers. Formula 707 Daily Essentials could be considered the most basic and important supplement for total wellness in horses of all ages. Daily Essentials, an ideal solution to ensure horses get everything they need to remain sound and healthy. We encourage you to share your stories on the Formula 707 Facebook page to bring awareness to your favorite organization and the incredible power of how they are “helping horses help people.”
If you have any questions regarding horses helping people or equine-assisted activities and therapies, feel free to get in touch with us.
About the Author
Shanna Stichler has been a lifelong lover of all things equine. She learned to ride at an early age by spending time with the family farm horses. At the age of 3, Shanna lost her sight in both eyes due to a plethora of congenital eye conditions. She still loved the family horses and spent time with them whenever possible. At the age of 10, Shanna started taking lessons and training with coaches qualified to teach riders with physical disabilities. During her teenage years, she competed with her American Quarter Horse King in Western Pleasure and Equitation along with various English classes.
As an adult, Shanna still spent time with her horses but began focusing on dog training after obtaining her first dog guide. She eventually worked as a Guide Dog Instructor at Guide Dogs for the Blind Inc. in San Rafael, California. She has found that many principals of horse training work very nicely with dogs, and credits horses with teaching her many important lessons about safe and humane animal training.