The unique therapies have been developed to help patients who are deaf, blind, diabetic and epileptic, as well as children with autism and behavioural problems and adults suffering from depression and addictions.
Gabrielle Gardner, a therapy counsellor working with charity Shine for Life, said: “The horse is the perfect mirror, they are very emotional beings; we’re only starting to realise how intelligent they are. One of the reasons I think equine-assisted therapies work so well is that everyone has a reaction to horses; nobody is indifferent. People either love them or fear them, so that’s two big emotions that immediately reflect what most of life’s issues revolve around.”
Gardner has used horse therapy with a diverse range of clients, including young offenders. She believes horses pick up on human emotions and respond by mirroring them. If a human appears angry or stressed, the horse will move away from them. If the human seems confident and content, the horse will tend to trust them and be more likely to follow them. This interaction is thought to help patients become more relaxed, centred and focussed.
Horse therapy suits people who don’t react well to ‘talking therapies’. Gardner believes interaction with horses is far more memorable than interaction with other human beings and will stay with the client long after the session has ended.
Although evidence for horse therapies having any positive effect on mental health is purely anecdotal, many experts believe it has many benefits.
The Horse Boy Foundation is running a programme of equine therapies in camps across Britain this summer in the hope of helping autistic children and their families. Dr Nicola Martin, an autism expert at LSE, has said anything that brings families closer together is positive, whether the horse therapy itself works or not.
To find out more about a wide range of alternative and complementary therapies available, please visit our Therapy Topics pages.
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