Healing with Horses
Updated: Aug 27, 2022
Churchill was Right. - 21 July 2021 by Lorelei Hoyt
Sir Winston Churchill said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” Gendered pronouns aside, it turns out he was right. Research has found that horses do have amazing impacts on people both physically and emotionally while they engage in equine assisted psychotherapy.
These impacts include decreasing anxiety and distress, expressing more positive emotions, using more positive gestures and language, improving perceptions of everyday occupations, reducing isolation, and improving self-perceived quality of life for both therapy participants and their family members. Equine assisted psychotherapy involves interactions with horses that are guided by a licenced psychotherapist. These interactions build trusting connections between horse and human that lead to decreased stress levels, and an improved emotional experience. As the horse becomes confident and calm with the interaction with the human, so too does the human become more confident and calmer with their interactions with the horse.
Over repeated sessions these connections build, and the benefits of this emotional and physical co-regulation deepen. These physical and emotional benefits then become ingrained as people become more able to extend this co-regulation into self-regulation in everyday nontherapeutic settings.
The inherent nature of horses may be the reason for these impacts. Horses are prey animals and therefore always alert to their surroundings for potential danger. They are also herd animals with complex social dynamics. These attributes make them highly sensitive to stimulus. It is suggested that this sensitivity is a contributing factor in how they help regulate the physical and emotional experienced of humans. As the horse monitors its environment for threats it signals safety and alerts herd members to hazards. This may also be consciously and subconsciously perceived by the person participating in equine assisted psychotherapy. As the horse will alert them to any potential hazard the person is then able to be less hypervigilant and focus on the therapeutic process. This is useful for a wide range of emotional processing but has been particularly useful in addressing PTSD.
Researchers continue to explore the impacts of equine assisted psychotherapy and its mechanisms. However in short Winston Churchill was in fact right. There is indeed something about the outside of horses that is good for the inside of us. Contact us to find out more and book to experience Equine Assisted Therapy for yourself.
References: Baldwin, Ann L.; Rector, Barbara K.; and Alden, Ann C. (2018) "Effects of a Form of Equine-Facilitated Learning on Heart Rate Variability, Immune Function, and Self-Esteem in Older Adults," People and Animals: The International Journal of Research and Practice: Vol. 1 : Iss. 1 , Article 5. Available at: https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/paij/vol1/iss1/5 Pálsdóttir AM, Gudmundsson M, Grahn P. Equine-Assisted Intervention to Improve Perceived Value of Everyday Occupations and Quality of Life in People with Lifelong Neurological Disorders: A Prospective Controlled Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Apr 3;17(7):2431. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17072431. PMID: 32260047; PMCID: PMC7177295. Gehrkea E, Noqueza A, Rankea P, and Myersa M. Measuring the psychophysiological changes in combat Veterans participating in an equine therapy program Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health 69 4(1) 2018 doi:10.3138/jmvfh.2017-0015 Scopa C, Contalbrigo L, Greco A, Lanatà A, Scilingo EP, Baragli P. Emotional Transfer in Human-Horse Interaction: New Perspectives on Equine Assisted Interventions. Animals (Basel). 2019 Nov 26;9(12):1030. doi: 10.3390/ani9121030. PMID: 31779120; PMCID: PMC6941042.