Equine therapy is an approach that involves the use of horses as agents for change. It has been used for decades but has recently gained popularity for the treatment of not only physical conditions but also psychosocial and psychological problems, such as depression and anxiety. Working with horses, nonthreatening and domiciled animals, brings unique challenges. Individuals with physical disabilities learn how to overcome their limitations in novel and empowering ways by working with horses. Techniques such as riding and carriage driving have been shown to be especially effective. Equine-assisted activities (EEAs) are at the core of equine-facilitated psychotherapy (EFP) and are integrated into exercises that are designed to help clients address their feelings in the present. Rather than escaping their painful experiences, similar to how a horse would escape from threatening situations, clients are encouraged to work with the horse to acknowledge their uncomfortable emotional state in order to change their perception and beliefs surrounding the feelings.
In order to ascertain the effectiveness of EEAs, Alison Selby of the Child and Family Guidance Centers in Plano, Texas recently conducted a review of existing research on equine therapies for both physical and psychological challenges. She used the Grades of Recommendation, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) to assess data from 103 studies. Selby found that out of 14 individual reports, nine showed significant positive outcomes as a direct result of EEAs. The remainder of the reports demonstrated little to no direct effect resulting from equine participation. The reports that provided support for EEAs were derived from studies focused on behavioral, psychological, physical, and psychosocial challenges. One of the most striking findings was the positive effect that EEAs had on mood. The results of Selby’s research clearly show that EEAs provide unique and effective opportunities for helping clients overcome physical and psychological obstacles. Selby added, “Future studies are needed that utilize rigorous and creative designs, especially longitudinal studies and comparisons with established effective treatments.”
Selby, A., Smith-Osborne, A. (2012). A systematic review of effectiveness of complementary and adjunct therapies and interventions involving equines. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029188
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