Equine Assisted Therapy
Equine Assisted Therapy (EAP) is an emerging and increasingly popular trauma-informed intervention and powerful tool which focuses on the connection between humans and the horse to bring about emotional healing.
What is Equine Assisted Therapy?
Equine assisted therapy involves activities completed in the presence of a horse, including mounted activities, therapeutic horseback riding as well as non-mounted, equine-focused activities such as grooming and caring for the horse. Horses are beautiful creatures which have the ability to help teach emotional regulation skills, confidence as well as focus.
Therapy inside a barn provides an opportunity for therapist and client to work side by side and opens up space for young clients to explore their emotions and to talk about their everyday challenges.
Compared to a traditional sit-down in-office counselling session that can feel rather intense for young clients, grooming and petting a horse can be much more calming and enjoyable experience.
How Horses Help
Horses have a beautiful way of capturing children’s attention. They provide immediate feedback in a non-judgmental way and this has the powerful impact of helping individuals focus on the present, in the here and now. This in turn forces these individuals to attend to the sensory messages that are being shared with them in a non-verbal way.
Horses can help humans to regulate their emotions as horses are herd animals and are incredibly attuned to humans and their emotions. Horses provide emotional safety in a way that is not possible with human beings.
Horses are also very intelligent animals. And believe it or not, they can detect a person’s heartbeat from four feet away!
When grooming or petting a horse, folks with ADHD are forced to be very mindful and gentle about what they are doing, as sudden movements would create panic in most horses. They are forced to slow their movements, and be quite purposeful and intentional about what they do.
Horses provide a powerful tool in their ability to reflect human emotions to teach children and adolescents to become more aware of their own feelings and reactions, and to work through emotions in positive ways.
Benefits of Equine Assisted Therapy
Emotion Regulation: Children with Autism often have difficulty regulating emotions. Research has shown that interactions with horses increase the production of oxytoxin, the “feel good” hormone that builds up empathy, thereby helping with social interactions and bonding. Additionally, it lowers blood pressure and decreases the production of cortisol, the “stress” hormone.
Equine Assisted Therapy can help to
- improve mood and well-being
- increase social skills and cognition
- increase empathy
- control impulses
- improve self esteem and confidence
- decrease irritability and hyperactivity
Impulse Control: Children and teens who struggle with impulse control can benefit tremendously from Equine Assisted Therapy. By being mindful and purposeful while interacting with a horse, individuals will experience slower breathing which in turns slows down heart rate and brain activity.
The need to communicate with horses calmly and non-reactively promotes the skills of emotional awareness, emotion regulation, self-control, and impulse modulation.
This leads to
- reduction in irritability, agitation, and impulsivity
- increases cooperation, emotional regulation
- improves their capacity for delay, and behavioural control.
In Canada, the Canucks Autism Network has many programs for kids on the Autism Spectrum, and their families, as well as promoting acceptance and inclusion in the community. Innova Therapy is registered with BC’s Autism Funding for direct billing.