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Equine Therapy for Addiction Treatment

EQUINE: Relating to or affecting Horses, mules, and other equine family members. They can be compared to the behavior of humans.

EAT (Equine-assisted therapy) has roots in antiquity, and EAT applies to physical health issues dating back to the 1960s.

What Is Equine Therapy?

Equine therapy has been used for people with various mental health problems (such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and developmental issues) and is sometimes called equine-assisted psychotherapy.

This type of therapy falls under animal-assisted treatment, where a person interacts with an animal such as a dog or cat to work through some emotional or psychological issues or traumas that you might not be able to address during standard therapy. However, in equine therapy, the therapist is referred to as a horse whisperer who does their best to help clients interact with horses over an extended period.

Benefits of Equine Therapy

The study suggests that it can be very beneficial because equine therapy is a recent development in treating psychological issues.

Equine therapy helps patients better understand their emotions and feelings. Working with horses brings feelings of fear, anger, resentment, sadness, loneliness, joy, and peace to the surface.

There was a study done in 2008 that looked at the effects of animal therapy on patients and learned that it has many benefits for the mind. Some of these patients had various issues, including those dealing with schizophrenia, personality, and affective disorders, but were able to find ways through their animals to cope. They showed healthier self-esteem and managing ability levels from the program's beginning to the end.

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Special Interaction with Horses and People

Since horses are herd animals, they can connect with and respond to other creatures. For example, horses can sense when someone is happy or sad because they can detect the feelings of other members of their pack. This particular skill makes equine therapy extremely helpful for people going through addiction treatment because it allows them to learn how to communicate and act accordingly in favorable situations rather than negative ones.

• IMMEDIATE FEEDBACK: Horses are a person's mirror. They make it easy to see and feel what we cannot express ourselves.

• LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES: The person can use his visit to the stables to discuss addiction and many other emotional or mental problems with his therapist. The therapist can use the experience with the horse to open up conversations about anything else concerning the person.

• OPPORTUNITIES FOR TRUST-BUILDING: A person who hasn’t developed a trusting relationship with his therapist might find equine therapy to be a safe environment where he can build trust and open up between himself and the horses and between himself and his therapist. A person who feels uncomfortable talking in traditional equine therapy dramatically benefits.

• NON-JUDGING RELATIONSHIPS: Horses offer a person the type of relationship that is non-judging, which can help people struggling with negative relationship consequences from their addiction rebuild their confidence without any fear of criticism.

Medically Reviewed:


Rolling Hills Recovery Center

Expert Contributor

Dr. Williams presently serves on the board of Directors for two non-profit service organizations. He holds a Master’s degree in Human Services from Lincoln University, Philadelphia, Pa, and a Ph.D. with a concentration in Clinical Psychology from Union Institute and University. In Cincinnati, Ohio. He is licensed to practice addictions counseling in both New Jersey and Connecticut and has a pending application as a practicing Psychologist in New Jersey.

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Lynn Moore, an addiction counselor, certified in EAT(Equine Assisted Therapy), proposed the idea of equine therapy while working on her master’s degree in addiction counseling at Hazelden’s graduate school of addiction studies.

Program roots:

Lynn Moore developed the program at Hazelden. Moore says the program is not about riding horses but about interacting with horses on the ground so patients can learn more about themselves.

“Horses mirror human feelings.”


She says they give us no verbal clues so people can take most hints and better understand themselves. This is not about horsemanship; it’s about overcoming fears and frustration by working with horses.

Moore quickly notes that the program is simply one of many adjuncts to Hazelden’s twelve-step care foundation. “It all comes together when you observe animals. A safe place can then be used to practice the new skills that you have learned. It can also help you open yourself up and reflect in various situations, depending on what's going on down the road with you!”

She said, “It's better to use the twelve steps.”


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Traditional addiction treatment can be very effective, but it is also costly. Addiction treatment can take many different forms. Admission to a hospital or addiction treatment facility for medical detoxification and rehabilitation, as well as individual and group therapy, may be required. The schedule is as follows: it typically lasts from several days to several months. Although many aspects of the program may vary, Rolling Hills Recovery Centers' focus is primarily on helping patients through their battle against addiction so they can eventually lead a drug-free life with relative ease.

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What is equine therapy?
Benefits of equine therapy
Special interactions with horses and people
Things you may want to know
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