Tag Archives: Horses

The Magical Healing Properties of Horses   By   Trish Jackson

child on horse

Whether you are a horse lover or not, you cannot help being in awe of the amazing healing power of horses. From the time of the ancient Greeks, people have recognized the magical curative capabilities of equine therapy, not only for physical disabilities, but also emotional, social, cognitive, and behavioral difficulties, and even to improve speech and educational skills for both adults and children.

Hippotherapy—from the Greek ‘hippo’ meaning horse, is based on the premise of a horse’s rhythmic, repetitive movements, which can help improve muscle tone, balance, posture, coordination, strength, flexibility and cognitive skills. On top of this, the movements also generate responses in the patient that are similar to, and essential for walking.

Therapeutic Horseback Riding, or Therapeutic Riding (TR), Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP), and Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) are other recognized types of horse therapy. In addition to horseback riding, participants groom and care for the horses and learn about trust and relationships, and responsibility. This is particularly beneficial for troubled youths, with problems like attention deficit disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders, abuse issues, depression, anxiety, and relationship and communication problems. Their interaction with the horses helps reduce stress levels and anxiety, and encourages increased feelings of self-esteem and patience. Grooming and caring for horses can also help military personnel with post-traumatic stress disorder or other emotional challenges.

You might think this in itself is mind-boggling, but there are more benefits. Adjusting to and accommodating for the horse’s movements stimulates the inner ear, which controls all voluntary movement of the body, including speech, and also increases sensorimotor integration—the nervous system’s ability to create involuntary or automatic movement.

As just one example, autistic children prefer to turn left because they can use their most developed brain hemisphere, the right hemisphere. Right turns on the horse can actually help restart the development of the left brain.

Physical and developmental conditions most often treated are:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Developmental delay
  • Autism
  • Stroke
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Spina bifida
  • Convulsive disorders
  • Amputation
  • Muscular dystrophy

Equine therapists must undergo special training and pass stringent exams. They address various therapeutic goals by having patients turn in circles, change direction repeatedly, or ride in different positions: sitting or lying forwards, backwards or sideways; standing in the stirrups; and riding without holding. In addition, patients may be asked to stretch, reach or play games — such as catch — while on the horse.

The horses used are hand-picked for their gentle nature, and are safe and well-trained.

I have personally witnessed a child who stopped speaking for two years after his father was murdered, who learned to speak again when he was taken for regular visits to a horse stable. It wasn’t a recognized therapy center and he didn’t even ride the horses. The simple pleasure of stroking and being around them was all he needed.

I am also about to follow the journey of my friend Anita’s autistic son, Kevin. He is 10 years old and although his parents have spent thousands of dollars on therapy, he has shown no improvement and remains locked inside his private world, a prisoner of his own mind. In desperation, Kevin’s parents are going to start him on equine therapy, even though as a family, they have never owned pets or animals, and Kevin has never touched a horse. I’ll be monitoring Kevin’s progress on my own blog, and I encourage anyone who has an autistic child or relative to join me.

I want to believe equine therapy will unlock Kevin’s mind, but only time will tell.

Equine therapy is still in its infancy in the US, and it seems to have no boundaries. I look forward to the discovery of more of the healing power of horses.

Trish Jackson writes emotive romantic suspense focusing on small towns, country folk and their animals. www.trishjax.com

Soul-stirring, passionate, thrilling – and fun.