Madison Youth Ranch

Equine Therapy Benefits

In recent years, studies on equine-assisted therapy show that care and training of horses can have a powerful effect on a person. Experts now see the positive benefit it has on children from traumatized backgrounds too — everything from developing healthy relationships and a strong work ethic to overcoming fears, building teamwork and much more.

Kids with emotional and behavioral issues can be difficult to work with. Most of them are slow to trust adults, and may be unwilling to trust anyone at all. In addition, if the emotional or behavioral issues are caused by abuse, the child could be angry and prone to emotional outbursts. Cognitive therapy that includes an equine assisted program can be of great benefit to this type of person.

A child’s responses to the horses can also provide excellent insight into the child’s opinions of self and of others, especially authority figures.

One of our residents on the autism spectrum had minimal communication with staff and his peers when he arrived at FUMCH. He did not play with others and would only express himself in angry outbursts. Traditional talk therapy was not helpful for him at the time. This child was able to participate in equine therapy. He loved animals and was excited to participate. While he could not verbalize with people, the equine therapist allowed him to walk the horse and encouraged him to talk to the horse. He would walk the horse and come to rest by a tree during each session. The child rested against the tree while the horse patiently stood next to him. He began sharing his story with the horse (outside of earshot from others). After about 10 sessions, he was able to begin communicating with staff and with his peers. It was at this point that we could then begin working with him. Without the horse, this would not have been possible.

While the children often cannot share their personal, traumatic experience, they find an instant bond with the horses that have also been abused and mistreated.

Because the horses have the wonderful ability to mirror human emotions, the horses often reflect the feelings the child is not able to verbalize. For instance, a child who is hyperactive, cannot saddle the horse because the horse will be hyper as well. A sad child may not understand that he/she is depressed, but will notice right away that the horse seems sad because he hangs his head low – just like the child, and then the therapist works from there to discuss those emotions, etc.

Equine assisted therapy offers kids with emotional and behavioral issues a safe environment in which to work through issues of fear, anxiety, self-doubt, and poor communication. By teaching the child how to work with and communicate with the horse, the therapist will be indirectly teaching the child how to apply these same skills in inter-personal relationships.