For many people horses are something they ride for pleasure, and for some they are just something beautiful you point at through the window on a road trip, but for others horses help them connect with another living being or heal after trauma. You may have heard horse owners and riders talking about their therapeutic value, but equine therapy takes that a step further. Equine therapy is essentially where a patient or client develops a bond with a horse and can relax and feel a connection they cannot in their day-to-day lives.
The use of equine therapy, equine-assisted therapy (EAT) and it’s various other forms has roots in antiquity. It’s use to aid physical health issues in modern times dates back to the 1960’s and use of horses for mental health treatment dates to the 1990’s. Equine therapy in all of it’s forms has been steadily on the rise ever since.
I’ve seen first-hand the incredible benefits special needs children and traumatic event survivors have had after equine therapy, and while I have helped many of these types of non-profits fundraise for their cause in the past, I am dedicating the majority of my 2019 concert tour to raising money for these organizations who are so vital to so many people’s mental and physical well-being.
As someone who was once one second away from taking his own life, I have a deep, personal connection and love for these animals and the humans that are teaming up with them to help make a real difference in the lives of others in need.
Types of Equine Therapy
Equine therapy is often more than the patient simply stroking and pampering the horse. Patients can connect with horses in the way that best works for them and their circumstances, including:
- Therapeutic Riding: many equine therapy organizations have facilities and staff or volunteers that enable even severely disabled people to ride.
- Hippotherapy: this is a speech therapy treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement. The word "Hippotherapy" is also used in some contexts to refer to a broader realm of equine therapies.
- Equine-assisted Psychotherapy: this form of therapy often includes grooming, feeding and other ground exercises with the horse.
- Equine-assisted Learning: this is where a therapist uses horses to develop life skills.
- Therapeutic Driving: this offers people with physical, mental or emotional challenges the opportunity to control a pony or horse from a carriage or even their wheelchair in a specialized carriage.
Equine Therapy Organizations
There are three leading trade organizations in equine therapy: the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH), the Eagala Organization, and the American Hippotherapy Association (AHA).
The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) is a federally registered non-profit first formed in 1969. It now has more than 4,800 certified instructors and more than 8,000 members around the world, all who help over 66,000 people (including 6,200 veterans and active-duty personnel) with physical, cognitive and emotional challenges.
PATH offers a wide range of equine activities, from riding, stable management and hippotherapy to driving, competitions and interactive vaulting. It’s an all-encompassing association with centers all over the world.
Eagala is a model of therapy where a team of licensed professionals work together with a client in the arena, where they work with the horse on the ground, loose, and are allowed to interact with the client as they wish. It is designed to create a space where the horse and client can connect on a deep and natural level.
The Eagala Organization is a worldwide organization spanning over 45 countries, and served 48,725 clients in 2017.
American Hippotherapy Association
The American Hippotherapy Association (AHA) is a non-profit that provides educational resources for occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language professionals who use equines in their treatment. They are the only organization in the United States who focuses on educating licensed professionals.
Benefits of Equine Therapy
Equine therapy is built on a foundation of science, and studies have shown that equine therapy has been successful in helping individuals with mental disabilities in areas such as emotional awareness and development, stress management, impulse control, problem-solving skills, and interpersonal relationships.
It also helps people who are experiencing mental health issues and challenges such as PTSD, depression, grief, by improving their stress tolerance, independence, happiness, and helps them feel more at peace with the world. This is especially useful for people whose careers lead them into traumatic circumstances, such as active-duty personnel, veterans and first responders.
Equine therapy also benefits people who have a physical disability such as MS and permanent injuries, by improving flexibility, happiness, and independence.
Why Does it Work?
While some horses and ponies can be pretty opinionated there are many that are incredibly placid and gentle. These horses are patient, accept anyone regardless of differences, and often have an incredible emotional depth and can recognize human emotions and mirror body language, which makes them perfect for connecting with disabled people who find it difficult to connect with other humans.
My 2019 tour is entirely devoted to helping raise money and awareness for these incredible organizations that mean so much to me. Covering over 20,000 miles between March 23 and December 31, my “One-Man Rock & Country Music Show” will be visiting cities and towns of all sizes across America to help support equine therapy programs and the individuals they are helping to heal and find hope. You can learn more here and see all tour dates here.
SCOTT HELMER is a singer, songwriter, musician, talk radio host, and Guinness World Records title holder for "Most Live Music Performances in 24 Hours (multiple cities)."
Since 2012 his special fundraising concerts have helped raise more than $2 Million Dollars for good causes across America ranging from military veterans and their families, equine-assisted therapy, suicide prevention, first responders, pet and animal rescues, food banks, historic places, special needs children and adults, and more.
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