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How Does Equine Therapy Facilitate Healing in Recovery from Addiction?

Our relationships with horses throughout history have been well-documented. From the beginning, equines have served as trusted companions, while also offering and supporting a significant emotional connection between horse and human.

The author Jane Smiley described this phenomenon in a reflection on equines.

“I learned why ‘out riding alone’ is an oxymoron: An equestrian is never alone, is always sensing the other being, the mysterious but also understandable living being that is the horse,” she wrote.

That mysterious but also understandable creature is one that has been proven to facilitate healing in many ways. In the realm of recovery from addiction, equine-facilitated therapy has remained a fundamental and effective aspect of treatment.

At RECO Intensive Outpatient Program, we have hosted equine therapy on our own RECO Ranch since our founding. Our equine program, which is headed by PATH-certified instructor Nongae Johnson, aims to confront clients’ fears, to create emotional connections, and to recognize issues of trust and intimacy in relation to addiction.

In our equine therapy sessions, the instructor serves only as a guide, allowing the client to focus on his/her bond with the horse, and to fully experience the therapeutic benefits of the session.

Horses are particularly sensitive to changes in humans’ emotional states. It is for this reason that they are an excellent therapeutic partner. As the client creates a relationship with his/her equine partner, they gain valuable experience in the processes of grounding and relaxation. The practice further emphasizes issues related to secure/insecure attachment, healthy boundaries, and perception, while allowing the client to immerse themselves in a different therapeutic environment.

As horses interact with humans, their reactions and attitudes begin to align. This results in an empathetic bond between the horse and the individual with whom it interacts, and allows for behaviors that are self-defeating or negative to be addressed in a gentle way.

Benefits of Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy 

According to PATH International and various other studies and associations, the benefits of equine therapy are vast, particularly when used in situations associated with stress and anxiety. Addiction treatment often involves a host of emotions, which are confronted with a distinctive, yet extremely effective modality in equine therapy.

These benefits are especially noteworthy in the following areas:

  • Assertiveness
  • Emotional release and awareness
  • Resilience
  • Stress tolerance
  • Self-actualization
  • Trust and bonding

Lessons on the Ranch

As clients attend equine therapy sessions throughout the process of treatment, they are better able to recognize patterns in their thoughts and behaviors. Interacting with equines becomes a powerful release of emotion, and the lessons to be learned are not only impactful, but crucial to the progression of healing.

Whether a client has ridden horses all their lives, or is new to the practice entirely, a wonderful opportunity for rejuvenation lies in the practice of equine therapy.

As Smiley wrote, “an equestrian is never alone,” as our relationships with equines continue to serve as a reminder of emotional awareness, connection, and growth.

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