Equine therapy, or therapy with horses, is an alternative therapy to treat children with serious emotional challenges. Even children with autism, who find it so difficult to communicate, can achieve great results when they are put with horses. Apart from autism, children with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and bipolar disorders have particularly benefited from Equine Therapy. It is also an effective and increasingly popular mode of treatment for eating disorders such as anorexia and bulemia.
There is nothing mysterious about equine therapy; at it's core, it is teaching clients horsemanship -- grooming, leading and riding. In the context of therapy, this means communication between client and horse.
Mounting and riding a horse is a lesson in coordination, concentration and confidence building for disabled children.
 How Equine Therapy Works
Horses have no expectations or motives. Patients, therefore, don’t have the fear of rejection as the horses respond in reaction to their behavior.
Horses, being prey animals, fear aggressive people. They also dislike noisy people who try to exert too much control. Though they look for a leader, they respond better to requests than demands.
As children, even those with emotional and mental disorders, find it easier to develop relationship than adults, they can become the natural leaders the horse is looking for. The horse then listens to whatever the child asks him to do.
They accept the simple, clear commands from children. And mentally and emotionally disturbed children gain profound positive benefits once the horses carry out their commands.
Though under normal circumstances children with ADD find concentration difficult, they are able to perform the task of grooming or leading the horse with great focus. This helps increase the self esteem of these children and gradually they start gaining in confidence.
- Cognitive Activity
- Sensory Integration
- Correct Muscle Tone
- Gross & Fine Motor Skills
- Increased Physical Stamina
- Proper Posture
- Independence & Social Skills
- Emotional Stability
- Self Esteem
 Treatment Method
There are a maximum of eight participants in each therapy session, supervised by a certified Equine-Assisted Therapist. First steps involve establishing a relationship with the horse, followed by closer interactions like grooming, vaulting or exercises, culminating in riding.
The trained professionals observe the development of the relationships and asked questions based on his findings. One-to-one sessions may also be necessary. The insights about the experiences of the patients are later integrated in the treatment plan.
Equine therapy not only helps modify disabled children's behavior and emotions, riding the horses also helps tone up their muscles and improve blood circulation and appetite.
The trunk and spine are strengthened by a combination of the horse’s motion and patient’s efforts to maintain a balanced seat. Because a horse’s walking stride is similar in length and cadence to a human’s stride, the pelvic movement mimics the action of walking and provides vital exercise for riders who cannot walk independently.
 Other Benefits
It has been found that horse riding caused marked improvement in conditions of individuals with physical limitations. Since horse riding emulates the human gait and provides gentle and rhythmic movements to the rider, it brings about improved balance and muscle strength.
Some other benefits include:
- The horse’s movements boost respiration, blood circulation, and digestion
- The change in speed and direction by the horse improves the vestibular system and the variety of smells wafting around a ranch area is said to stimulate the olfactory system
- Controlling the horse needs sharp vision and all these sensory functions working together. This results in the better overall well-being of the patient.
 Who Benefits From Equine Therapy?
Patients that can benefit from Equine Therapy are children and adults with disorders such as:
- Mental and Emotional Disturbances: autism, phobias, psychoses.
- Behavioral Disorders: aggressiveness, nervousness, stress, shyness, insomnia, sedentary habits.
- Development delays, learning disabilities, social problems.
- Dysfunctions with neurological motor impairment: cerebral palsy, vascular-cerebral accidents, cerebral trauma.
- Down Syndrome, Rett Syndrome.
- Sensory, visual, auditory and speech problems.
- Orthopedic Problems: posture, equilibrium, joint degeneration, injuries, amputations, congenital defects.
- Rheumatic Diseases: adult and child rheumatoid arthritis, gout.
- Respiratory problems: asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, post-operational and/or post-traumatic.
 Types of Horses Used
With the exception of stallions and competition horses, all breeds of horses are suitable for Equine Therapy as long as they have a calm, patient and trainable temperament. To ensure safety horses are made to go through a thorough assessment before they are considered for the therapy. Tests are conducted to determine whether they have the habit of kicking, bucking or biting under stress.
 See Also
- Horse therapy - changing lives
- Therapeutic & Recreational Activities
- Eating Disorders