The history and benefits of equine assisted therapy for disorder and addiction treatment are well documented. At Fraser Valley Treatment Centre, or FVTC, we have an equine specialist that supervises our on-site horse, or equine assisted therapy. Here is a bit of equine history combined with the inherent benefits of equine assisted therapy:
Horses have had a far greater involvement and impact on human health than most people suspect. Hippocrates of ancient Greece, recognized the healing prowess of the horse’s rollicking gait. He prescribed horsemanship for various ailments of mind and body — professed this to all in his profession — and hence, the concept of equine healing was first documented in Europe. In the late 1800’s, another physician is documented as claiming, “… a spirited horse should be recognized as a treatment for depression.”
After the World Wars, it was often the horse who was tasked with the post-combat rehab of veterans. A few decades later, physio and life enrichment programs were introduced for those with physical handicaps, and the innovation spread to America in 1969. Today, thousands of equine-assisted practices exist world-wide with a remarkable range of target population, method, and goals.
Many of the feats of the human cultural evolution are thanks to the strength, talent, and work ethic of the horse, as much as our own complex intelligence. They carried us across wilderness to discover new territory, settled the land alongside us, built the infrastructure and monuments of our original cities, and waged war to protect these many human investments.
Only when cars and tractors were invented, did we begin to lose our connection with these wonderful creatures, whose many historical contributions are now taken for granted.
Unfortunately, the steady increase in cost and decrease in accessibility of horse keeping and sport, further estrange us from this cultural past time. That being said, online sharing sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest are often overrun with the enamoured equestrian professing deep sentiment for the profundity of the horse-human relationship. Any horse-owner knows that a horse is not only our best friend, but our therapist, too.
There are relevant studies that support that working with horses can have a positive effect on one’s mental and social well-being. Research shows that at-risk youth who participate in equestrian-related programs gain transferable skills, with decreases in maladaptive behavioural issues, drug-use, and criminal activity; an increase in self-esteem, empathy, trust, social development and successful relationships are also exhibited. Such participation can act as a protective factor during the transition into adulthood. There is also exciting evidence to support the efficacy of horse-human interaction, specifically in the addiction rehabilitation process. An increase in rate of completion of treatment, and later retention of newfound skills, has been noted by studies done in both Canada and Norway. This success is attributed to the perception of being in a “safe space” — a non-threatening psycho-social setting with indirect therapeutic pressure — as much as the relationship occurring with the animal itself.
Our burgeoning population too often values radical capitalism and individualism over all else. It seeks to over-implement a competitive and conformist Left-Hemisphere existence. Hence, the Right-Hemisphere of the many stagnate, as we grow up stifling the imagination, and our innate penchant for compassion and social reciprocity.
Those who can embrace their Right-Brain talents DO flourish. You don’t have to be an impressive artist, athlete, or activist to succeed in health and happiness, but you do have to let go of the misconception that you aren’t any of these things either — take a chance to find out, while finding yourself again, with the horses!
Horses are masters of right-brain consciousness and communication — they can help you get there, too. They live in the moment — grounded in body consciousness. Their survival instinct is to quietly observe and “listen”. When they communicate, they use their “energy” — body dynamics, emotion and vibration — and utilize an acute level of visual-spatial awareness. A highly cooperative species, horses are deeply in tune with other sentient beings, and seek to create harmony amongst themselves. Evolution granted them social finesse and subtlety (something we as humans have lost) to avoid detection by predators, greatly increasing their chances of survival by living in the natural shelter of group intelligence. Take notes, humanity!
The practice of horsemanship can be considered a form of active meditation: the reciprocal relationship we have with our partner, the horse, and the range of tasks that he or she presents us with daily, requires focus on the here and now, and to act with intention and insight. Quite naturally, this will create a casual but effective arena for the exercise of non-judgement, self-awareness, emotional regulation, boundaries, and to practice both compassion and confidence.
Animals provide a heart connection that humans crave — the emotional “safe space” we seek with other sentient beings. Furthermore, being outside inevitably comes with the beneficial properties of sunshine and clean air. With the relaxed, refreshing environment, often those stubborn “walls” can finally come down, and resistance to treatment or health professionals, may be alleviated. Successful healing can now occur — thanks to our dear friend, the horse.
Horses, and our reverence of them, is embedded into the collective consciousness of humanity, even if for most people it now resides in the sub-terrain of their psyche.
Early in North America, indigenous populations considered horses to be their spiritual guides. Later, when the continent was discovered and the frontier was born, bands of wild mustangs were transformed into the unforgettable icon of the lawless Wild West. The image of a galloping horse still represents FREEDOM to humans everywhere. While their contemporary, stabled lives are mundane, horses retain the nobility of their soul, and remain connected with the heartbeat of the universe we live in together.
This isn’t often so for man.
We have become disconnected from nature.
From our nature.
Winston Churchill once proclaimed, “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.” He attributed the horse not only with his survival of war, but also his general quality of life. He lamented the invention of the combustible engine, seeing the loss of the horse in everyday life as a genuine set-back for humanity.
There are endless proverbs to be found about the divinity of equuscaballus — the great and wise horse — across the foundations of nearly all nations. They exemplify the vital balance we as humans should seek to emulate within ourselves. Horses and equine specialists help retrieve lost souls with loving rehabilitation, foster their re-connection with spirit, and lead the way to freedom from suffering, for you and your loved ones. They are just one amazing part of an incredible team waiting to bring you home, as we welcome you into ours!