Benefits of Equine Assisted Therapy for Teens Reinforced in Studies

Equine therapy has existed one way or another for centuries. It has been used to treat a myriad of ailments. From rehabilitating war injuries to improving its practitioners’ physical and emotional well-being, it has long been used as a dynamic treatment, treating more than a dozen types of physical, emotional, and even behavioral issues. 

While still in its infancy in gathering clinical research, all studies thus far highlight the applications of Equine-assisted therapy as a viable mental health treatment for children, adolescents, and young adults. The latest, a study published in the fall of 2020 that included 124 children and young adults, was the most recent of many studies to find that equine therapy helped “alleviate multiple emotional and behavioral struggles.”

According to many clinical psychologists, Equine-assisted therapy can be a beneficial therapeutic tool in treating severe mental illnesses in children, teens, and young adults, including (but not limited to): 

  • Dissociative disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

What is Equine Therapy? 

Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) is a form of experiential therapy -- a hands-on approach to psychotherapy that involves experiencing therapeutic activities instead of talking therapy where a person simply talks to a mental health professional.  

Equine-assisted therapy involves horses and a therapeutic specialist (typically a psychologist or counselor) who sometimes works with a horse specialist to provide clients with positive changes to their mental and emotional well-being. 

Over the past few decades, however, the need for a horse specialist has been negated as the clinical therapists involved in the treatment have also become proficient in equine-related therapy in addition to the field of mental health. 

The specific treatments involved in equine-assisted therapy vary, with some specialists encourage the client or patient to ride the horse, while others do not allow the client or patient to ride the horse whatsoever. Whether riding or not riding, every equine-assisted therapy requires clients to engage in a number of constant, beneficial activities that include grooming, handling, groundwork, observing, and structured exercises that challenge a particular group’s needs and goals. In addition, EAT provides a unique non-verbal treatment style that makes it ideal for treating children and adolescents.

EAT’s non-verbal approach to improving the well-being of its participant makes it invaluable in enhancing self-awareness, helping recognize maladaptive behaviors, identifying negative or delusional feelings, and facing self-destructive fears and cognitions.  

Furthermore, according to clinical psychologists like Azmaira Maker, Ph.D., it is proven to treat psychological and social issues and mental health needs. Specifically, those relating to mood, perception, insight, social awareness, communicative skills, positive behavioral change, gaining empathy, and essential learning. 

Recent Studies Highlight the Usage of Equine-Assisted Therapy in Improving The Lives of Young People

For centuries there have been long-held beliefs that equine-assisted therapy may provide many psychotherapeutic benefits for those who engage in the treatment. Over the last decade, there have finally been scientific studies that focus on the mental health applications of equine-assisted therapy. While investigations into the treatment are still in their infancy, the research has thus far yielded remarkable results. 

One academic paper published, Cantin A. & Marshall-Lucette S., (2011) “Examining the Literature on the Efficacy of Equine Assisted Therapy for People with Mental Health and Behavioural Disorders,” for instance, revealed promising results in the use of EAT in increasing positive and reducing negative behaviors as well as in proving beneficial for those suffering from general mental health problems.

The most recent study, the Hartpury University’s postgraduate research project, was a study that included 124 children and young adults and 96 caregivers that used a mixed-method approach to included quantitative questionnaire data to evaluate equine therapy and its effect on mental health. 

According to their findings, participants’ self-assessed wellbeing scores increased by nearly 70 percent compared to scores beforehand. 

According to one researcher, “Participants felt they had improved in the five areas assessed: confidence, calmness, communication, resilience, and positivity.”

70 percent of those who felt as though they had received a positive impact from the treatment reported increased self-confidence and improved relationships due to the equine-assisted treatment. 

Another instance of clinical research is a 2017 study titled “Effects of Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy on Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms in Youth,” which found that equine-assisted therapy was just as effective in treating post-traumatic stress in teenagers as psychiatric counseling. 

This study, in particular, shows the potential of equine therapy. Think of it this way, simply on its own, equine therapy was shown to yield similarly positive results as traditional psychotherapy. By the logic of this statement, one can easily expound on how effective the treatment could be when used in conjunction with conventional and even intensive residential therapeutic treatments. 

The conclusion of many psychiatric experts looking into the mental health applications of equine therapy is more than optimistic. 

While many admit that the research into the treatment is still in its infancy, they also contend that those utilizing equine-assisted therapy are merely waiting for scientific research to catch up on what many have already known for centuries and what cutting-edge studies have thus far proven: 

Equine therapy is a powerful treatment in treating the most severe and widespread mental illnesses currently plaguing our world’s teens and young adults, today.