By Nick Jankel

Author, Keynote Speaker, Leadership Theorist, Transformational Coach, Wisdom Teacher, Co-Creator of Bio-Transformation Theory & Practice®

Animal connections for Human Problems

Animal therapy and equine therapy are ways of using our connection with animals to help with our all-too-human problems: getting over anxiety, depression, addiction, Attention Deficit Disorder, and other mental health problems. Equine therapy (or Equine-Assisted Therapy – EAT) can help you build confidence, improve your social and communication skills and give you a greater sense of trust. Wondering how horses and other animals can be part of your healing journey? Read on. 

Growth & Change with Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy

Everyone knows animals can be awesome companions and teach us a lot about unconditional love and all that stuff. But did you know that interacting with animals can improve your mental well-being? The area of animal therapy is vast, so we’ll focus on equine therapy in this article. With Equine-Assisted Therapy, specifically Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy, the power of relating to horses is a killer combo when you mix it up with a therapeutic programme to boost your personal growth and development. Horses are able to naturally respond to the emotional issues of their human friends. The therapist who works with equine therapy can observe what goes on between horse and human to get a great insight into your challenges and figure out how to create a change-enabling environment for you as the client. You’ll also benefit hugely from being outdoors and re-connecting with nature (insert link to nature article).

Don’t worry if you don’t know how to ride a horse – you will be led gently into the experience, and for some sessions might not even touch the horse at all. A connection is created between you as the client and the horse, simply by grooming and being around each other. You’ll learn about yourself and others by taking part in activities with horses, and then discussing your feelings, behaviors and patterns with your therapist. EFP has been shown to improve the ability to manage emotions, to create and maintain healthy relationships, to feel empowered, and to recover from abuse – all improving your feeling of control over your life. It also decreases recreational drug use and depression, fear and anxiety. With animal therapy in general, we’re talking dogs and cats mainly. These pets visit places like hospitals with their volunteer owners to bring some comfort, connection and companionship to people dealing with illness and isolation. But animal therapy can also involve helping to chill-out stressed people of any kind – including students.


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Some Resources to Get you Started with Equine & Pet Therapy

If all this is grabbing you, here are some resources to get you started. To find out about Equine Therapy near you, check out this site. Pets as Therapy is a good organization in the UK to get in touch with for the opportunity to connect with animals in a hospital situation. Pets As Therapy are also available to work with stroke patients and people with dog phobias, in individual animal assisted therapy (AAT). And here’s an international site for dogs in pet therapy.

Empowering you on your Healing Journey: How Equine Therapy Works

If you’re diagnosed with a mental health problem or are battling addiction, you’re likely to be feeling less than brilliant about yourself. Added to this is the passive position you often find yourself in, in relation to the medical profession – unless you take action to empower yourself. Equine Therapy can be an excellent complementary therapy (insert link to complementary therapy article) because it is so empowering: horses are powerful, strong animals that need you to step up to the plate to be effective with them. Working with these animals helps you to develop your self-worth as you recover, and grow confidence that can be applied to all areas of your life. The amazing thing about working with horses is that they don’t react to us based on our past history: they respond to us in the here and now, which can have a powerful effect on self-esteem and allow us to try out new behaviors. They also help us to be more aware of ourselves and to feel ‘felt’, as they provide feedback through their responses and body language in a way that even a human therapist can’t match. Horses are very social animals, just like us, and can teach us a lot about ourselves.

We also can touch horses – and touch, which has enormous healing power, is outside the scope of talk psychotherapy. A conversation with a therapist can be forgotten – but equine therapists and clients say that the relationship and interaction with a horse becomes part of our body and being. In equine-assisted psychotherapy, the horse is used as a ‘mirror’, giving you as the client instant feedback about how your feelings, behavior and physical movement are put across. Your therapist analyzes this to help you apply the insights to your life. Equine therapy also helps us to be more aware of our thoughts, feelings and actions because being with horses – who, unlike our fellow humans, are totally honest and won’t do any pretending – increases our alertness and presence.

From Ancient Greece to Riding Dolphins: The History of Equine & Animal Therapy

Since horses were used for therapeutic riding in ancient Greek literature, equine-assisted therapies have swept all around the world and become recognized as a medical field. Equine therapy was introduced in Scandinavia in 1946 after a poliomyelitis outbreak, and in 1960 came to the U.S. and Canada, as a way of helping disabled people. And it’s not just horses that have been used in a therapeutic way – swimming with dolphins, for instance, and interacting with elephants, dogs and cats, have all become popular. But horses remain the most popular animal for animal therapy because of their mirroring and feedback abilities and the fact that they are so similar to humans in many ways.

How will this help you to transform your problems and pain?

Animal and equine therapy can help you to move from mental health problems and addiction into living as your most thriving self, teaching you a new way of being: confident, empowered and able to tackle the challenges in your life.


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