Horse Riding as Therapy in Addiction Treatment
Equine Therapy: Does It Help Address Addiction?
Yes, equine therapy be used to help address issues related to addiction. It helps us shift emotional and mental patterns, and discover new ways of being. While relatively new, this type of therapy has been shown to have many widespread benefits for both mental and emotional health.
Well, to begin, addiction is a complicated disease. It affects the mind, body, and soul…so overcoming cravings and patterns to use drug or alcohol can be constant struggle, one that requires effort. This why we have to be active in our sobriety, not passive, even when we rack up some time in recovery.
Getting there initially can be the hardest part of the journey. The pull towards drugs or alcohol can be powerful, and it isn’t uncommon that people face many false starts on the road to recovery. Relapses are almost expected, as drug or alcohol use has an allure when we first quit. What that means may be poorly understood by those around the sufferer.
Even those in the scientific community are learning more about the recovery process every day.
When a relapse occurs, or when we’re first trying to get sober, we may feel helpless and hopeless. The guilt, both of the addiction itself and the things we have done while in the throes of it, can make the urge to self-medicate all the more tempting.
Sometimes, talk therapy can feel theoretical. Equine therapy forces you to step into the moment. You change your focus from yourself to another living creature.
That is why utilizing multiple therapeutic approaches to addiction recovery are so effective. While going to voluntary, “peer-supported” meetings are an awesome way to hold yourself accountable and find acceptance among others who know your struggles, sometimes a 12-step approach isn’t quite enough.
Dealing with the intense emotional core of addiction takes a professional, and you have many options to choose from. Therapy, counselor-led support groups, psychologist/psychiatrist combos, inpatient treatments, outpatient treatments—they are all proven to be excellent choices. A more experimental—but still highly praised—option to consider is equine therapy.
What Is Equine Therapy?
Equine therapy is riding and caring for horses in a therapeutic setting as part of a larger mental health program. During your time in equine therapy, you will bond with a horse, help care for their needs, feed them, brush them, saddle them, clean their stall, ride them and otherwise become connected to the animal on a deeper level.
How does this help you recover from an addiction? It all starts with an external focus.
Addiction is a selfish disease. It eats away at you from the inside, making you self-obsessed. So much of your life becomes about the addiction itself, whether it is when you can get your next fix, or how you will hide behavior from those around you.
When you are coming off of drugs or alcohol, you have that same internal obsession. You are trying not to think about using. You are trying to put forward a certain attitude and appearance. You are stuck in your own head as you battle with the demons that kept you using for so long.
Equine therapy forces you to move your focus to another living creature. Other animal forms of therapy that exist for addicts are the use of companion animals/support animals, such as cats and dogs. In addition to being larger than us, horses are highly feeling, intelligent animals. Their riders can become very attached to them and able to connect on many levels. Trust is built during both riding and caring for a horse, on both sides.
Equine Therapy For Other Disorders
Horse therapy has been used for other disorders as well, including in the treatment of mental health issues in children and teens. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADD/ADHD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, depression, anxiety, personality disorders and more can all benefit from time spent in equine therapy.
As addiction can often overlap with the above other conditions, making this an effective form of therapeutic intervention that can be added to additional treatments being received by the sufferer.
What You Will Get From Equine Therapy
Equine therapy provides its own set of benefits. It is fun and enjoyable. It can be highly relaxing. It gives the mind something to focus on. It heals the body and helps build strength. It offers immediate emotional feedback from the horse, a highly empathetic creature.
The rider will also learn things about themselves they never knew. They will find discipline and consistency in their activities. They will have time to sort out their own thoughts and emotions in a safe space, on their own time. They will even be able to learn to create and maintain healthy, trusting relationships in an environment meant to help them grow emotionally.
How To Find Equine Therapy In My Area
Many stables offer the ability to ride horses that they keep. However, those are not the programs that are catered directly to those needing assistance with addiction or mental health issues and should be a secondary source of interaction with horses.
PATH International is a great, official source for information and finding an equine therapy program in your area. They are a network of licensed and trained mental health providers who use equine therapy as part of their overall treatment recommendations.
Once you have found a provider that works for you, it is wise to speak to them about how their program works. Some will offer a staff of therapists in different specialties that work with you alongside the equine therapy.
Others will have you continue treatment for your addiction and mental health with your own therapist or doctor, in addition to your equine therapy. This combination is a great option for those who have already established a relationship with a provider and want to continue working with them while adding equine therapy to their treatment plan.
Equine therapy is an amazing, if somewhat experimental, method of treating addiction. It has been shown to have many widespread benefits for mental and emotional health. If you have been struggling with your path to sobriety, maybe equine therapy is the missing puzzle piece.