Horses and humans have worked together since the beginning of recorded human history to explore the world, win battles, and engage in sports activities. Some civilizations are so intertwined with horses that merely mentioning them conjures up an image of the two side by side. Horses have a unique way of showing compassion and empathy to humans, and that’s one reason equine therapy is one of the most effective methods for helping people overcome stress and anxiety. 

What Is Therapeutic Recreation & Equine Therapy?

Equine therapy is one of our recreational therapeutic approaches to treatment. It is an experiential program that uses the connection between people and horses to enhance addiction and mental health treatment. There are many forms of equine therapy, the most common being equine-assisted psychotherapy, hippotherapy, and therapeutic riding.

Equine-assisted psychotherapy, also called EAP, is a form of treatment for individuals with mental or substance use disorders. It is a nontraditional form of talk psychotherapy that allows the client to identify and process their emotions outdoors rather than in the confines of a therapist’s office.

In an EAP session, clients feed, groom, and lead horses under the supervision of a psychotherapist. This form of therapy helps people process difficult emotions and develop self-confidence.

The Science Behind Equine Therapy

The use of equine therapy in mental health treatment has been traced back to ancient Greece and was written about by Hippocrates, the father of medicine. It became common in Europe and North America during the 1950s and 60s as a way to treat and help rehabilitate individuals with various disorders.

Transformations Mending Fences offers a unique equine therapy program that involves equine-assisted learning (EAL) and equine-assisted therapy (EAT).

Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL)

EAL focuses on personal development and enhancement of life skills, which are important aspects of recovering from addiction and managing everyday challenges. Participants in EAL work closely with horses to perform activities that reflect real-life scenarios. Each activity requires the client and horse to collaborate to make decisions and problem-solve. During these activities, clients develop important life skills, such as resilience and adaptability, while benefiting from reduced stress and improved mood.

Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT)

EAT, like EAL, involves therapeutic activities that require the horse and client to interact and work together. The activities don’t include riding. Instead, they involve spending time leading, grooming, and feeding the horse. The horse expresses its gratitude and gives other feedback using nonverbal communication, giving the client a sense of calm and responsibility.

How Equine Therapy Improves Mental Health

Equine therapy combines the advantages of nature exposure, also known as nature therapy, with the therapeutic benefits of interacting with a horse. These treatment methods work together to encourage clear thinking and provide a healthier way to deal with challenging emotions. In addition, equine therapy gives individuals who feel uncomfortable in confined spaces an alternative way to process their emotions.

Equine-assisted therapy also incorporates mirroring and vulnerability management, which improves overall mental wellness.


Horses are very good at observing people and offering a non-judgmental listening ear. They mirror the client, letting them know they understand and that the client is safe in their space. This action allows clients to check in with themselves and become aware of their emotions.

Managing Vulnerability

Some clients feel vulnerable when opening up about their mental health. This might cause them to miss appointments, avoid speaking about it, or experience anxiety each time they attend a session. EAP offers the opportunity to process these painful experiences with the horse. They also learn to regulate their emotions when they don’t want the horse to “feel them” or “pick up” on them.

Is Equine Therapy Suitable for Everyone?

Equine-assisted psychotherapy is suitable for individuals of all abilities and backgrounds since riding isn’t one of the activities involved. It also provides a nontraditional therapeutic setting for individuals to overcome their own self-limitations and improve their self-worth. It’s important to note that EAP is not a treatment but a complementary therapeutic service used alongside a traditional evidence-based treatment.

Benefits of EAP

There are numerous short- and long-term benefits of equine therapy, including

  • Greater social awareness
  • Better communication skills
  • The ability to read nonverbal cues
  • Distress tolerance and emotional regulation
  • The ability to adapt to changing circumstances
  • The ability to show empathy and compassion
  • Control over impulses
  • Increased sense of trust
  • Greater self-confidence and self-awareness
  • Improved problem-solving skills
  • Healthier coping skills
  • Improved focus
  • The ability to adjust to routines
  • Reduction in anxiety symptoms
  • Reduction in aggression

People with the following conditions are shown to benefit the most from equine therapy:

  • agoraphobia
  • panic disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • substance use disorders
  • addiction
  • attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • generalized anxiety disorder
  • panic disorder

Locating an Equine Therapy Program Near You

If you or someone you know are struggling to cope with addiction and mental illness and could benefit from Equine Therapy, reach out to Transformations Mending Fences. Together, we can develop a plan that incorporates talk therapy, equine therapy, and one of our many other services that have helped thousands of individuals on the road to wellness.