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Understanding Equine Therapy for Teens

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Pro Health Web

Equine therapy for teens is a type of therapy that involves interacting with horses to promote emotional growth and healing. It is often used to treat mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. During sessions, teens work with horses under the guidance of trained professionals to learn skills such as trust, communication, and empathy. Equine therapy can lead to improved self-esteem, better communication and interpersonal skills, and reduced stress levels. If you believe your teen could benefit from equine-assisted therapy, please consult with a healthcare professional to determine if it is right for them.

Understanding Equine Therapy for Teens

Equine therapy, also known as equine-assisted therapy (EAT), is a type of experiential therapy that involves interacting with horses. For many people, the idea of receiving mental health treatment outside of a traditional office setting can seem odd or perhaps even intimidating, but equine therapy has shown to be an effective method of treating various mental health conditions in teens, including anxiety, depression, and anger issues.

Equine therapy is like the “outdoorsy” version of talk therapy. Instead of sitting in a therapist’s office and having a conversation, this type of therapy is done outdoors and involves physical activity. It’s a more holistic approach that involves the whole person – mind, body, and spirit.

Horses are particularly powerful animals that can help people work through emotional and psychological barriers because they are highly intuitive creatures. They are very sensitive to the energy and emotions around them and will often mirror back to us what we are feeling. In other words, if we are angry or anxious around them, they will respond accordingly.

Imagine you’re trying to lead a horse through an obstacle course. If you’re feeling confident and assertive, the horse is more likely to follow your lead. If you’re timid or nervous, however, the horse may become stubborn or refuse to cooperate. This gives us an opportunity to see how our emotions impact others around us.

Some people may wonder if equine therapy is just a gimmick or if it’s really effective at all. It’s important to note that while this type of therapy may be unconventional, it has actually been backed by research demonstrating its effectiveness.

According to the American Counseling Association (ACA), equine-assisted therapy has been shown to have a success rate between 60-70% at treating adolescents with mental health issues. Some experts suggest that the success rate may be even higher because this type of therapy doesn’t just treat symptoms, it helps people develop new ways of thinking and relating to others.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how equine therapy works.

How It Works

At its core, equine therapy is about building a connection with a horse. This may involve activities such as grooming, feeding, or simply spending time with the animal. Because horses are prey animals and we are predators, building trust and respect requires us to demonstrate calm, assertive energy.

If you’re feeling anxious or frustrated while working with a horse, for example, the animal will pick up on that energy and may become agitated or nervous as well. On the other hand, if you’re able to remain calm and centered even in the face of a challenge, the horse will respond positively to your presence.

The physical act of riding a horse can also be therapeutic. The rhythmic motion of the horse’s gait has a calming effect on the body, which can help reduce stress levels and promote relaxation. Additionally, riding requires balance and coordination, which can help enhance proprioception (the sense of where our body is in space) and improve overall body awareness.

Think about it like dancing: when two people are dancing together. They need to be aware of each other’s movements and stay in sync in order to create something beautiful. Riding a horse is similar in that it requires both rider and horse to work together in order to move gracefully.

Some people may wonder why working with horses specifically is helpful for mental health issues. While any sort of outdoor activity can be beneficial for mental health (for example, going for walks or participating in team sports), working with horses provides a unique opportunity to build a relationship with another living being.

This can be especially helpful for teens who may be struggling to form meaningful connections with others. Horses don’t judge us or hold grudges – they respond solely to our energy and behavior. This allows people to practice empathy, assertiveness, and other social skills in a safe and nonjudgmental environment.

Now that we have a better understanding of how equine therapy works, let’s take a closer look at some of the specific benefits it can offer for teen mental health.

Success Rate and Effectiveness

Equine therapy has garnered significant attention over the years for its effectiveness in treating mental health disorders among teens. According to a study by the American Counseling Association, equine therapy has a 60-70% success rate in treating adolescents with mental health issues. This is much higher than other traditional forms of therapy. The success rate of equine therapy can be attributed to several factors.

One of the primary reasons for equine therapy’s high success rate is its unique approach to dealing with emotional and mental health issues. Unlike traditional forms of therapy that rely on medication or talk therapy. Equine therapy is experiential and involves engaging with horses. Horses are known for their sensitivity to human emotions, and they often reflect their handler’s disposition. Through building relationships with horses, teens gain trust, empathy, communication skills, and socialization skills.

An analogy would be comparing learning how to swim from a textbook versus learning how to swim by jumping in the pool. Reading about swimming may provide you with knowledge, but it cannot replicate the experience of being in the water. Equine therapy offers an immersive experience that enables teens to develop new skills and learn more about themselves.

Another factor that contributes to the high success rate of equine therapy is the use of horses. Horses have been used for therapeutic purposes for centuries. They have a calming effect and give unconditional positive regard to their handlers which creates a therapeutic environment. The physical act of horseback riding itself also promotes relaxation and can reduce stress levels.

A prime example of equine therapy’s success rate comes from the Idaho Youth Ranch. Which offers equine therapy among its various youth programs. According to a parent’s testimonial on the ranch’s website, “Equine therapy has been a game-changer for my child. Who suffers from anxiety and depression. I have seen such a positive improvement in their mental health and overall well-being.”

Benefits of Equine Therapy for Teen Mental Health

Equine therapy offers several benefits to teenagers dealing with mental health issues.

One significant benefit of equine therapy is emotional regulation. Horses are empathetic animals, and they can sense when a handler is feeling overwhelmed or anxious. As a result, handling horses can help teens regulate their emotions better. This skill translates into other aspects of life where emotional regulation is critical, like school, work, and personal relationships.

A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that teens who received six weeks of equine therapy experienced an increase in self-esteem and interpersonal effectiveness compared to those who did not receive treatment.

Some critics argue that horse riding may be incredibly dangerous and can result in serious injuries or accidents. However, horse riding under professional supervision can ensure safety while simultaneously reaping the benefits offered by equine therapy.

Another benefit of equine therapy includes building trust between teens and adults. Oftentimes, teenagers may feel like they are unheard or misunderstood by adults around them. Making it challenging to build trust within their relationships. Equine therapy offers an opportunity to develop trust and form positive connections with other people. This eventually translates to a teenager’s other relationships, including that with their parents, peers, and teachers.

Another analogy would be comparing getting behind the wheel for the first time and building trust with a horse. Initially, both experiences can be intimidating as one is potentially dangerous. While the other requires one to move outside their comfort zone. However, with continued practice and guidance from trusted adults, both experiences can become easier over time.

A randomized controlled study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry reported that teenagers. Who participated in an equine therapy program experienced a decrease in depression scores, compared to those who did not receive treatment.

Understanding the benefits of equine therapy highlights the topics we will discuss next. Which include identifying teens who may benefit from this treatment and the specific mental health issues that equine therapy addresses.


Another benefit of equine therapy is that it teaches teens essential life skills. And increasing their competency in dealing with mental health issues. These skills include coping mechanisms, communication skills, problem-solving skills, planning and organization skills, and leadership qualities, among others. The therapeutic environment created by equine therapy encourages self-reflection and helps teens understand what work for them and how they can improve themselves.

Some critics argue that while equine therapy might benefit some teenagers’ mental health, it is not as effective as traditional forms of therapy such as psychotherapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). However, CBT only has a 50% success rate when used alone. What sets equine therapy apart from these other forms of treatment is that it addresses other aspects of mental health issues like anxiety, self-esteem, socialization skills, and coping mechanisms.