It’s important to note that there are many different routes of addiction recovery that one can take. Indeed, there is no “one size fits all” method of treatment that will work for everyone. For this reason, at Renaissance Ranch, we have adapted our program to ensure that it is using the latest techniques of multiple programs to help individuals beat addiction and get on the road to recovery. One of these options is equine therapy.
Equine therapy is a type of therapy that uses horses as a therapeutic tool to help with the emotional health of our patients. Emotional intelligence is something that addiction tends to wear down, and thus it is important to build it back up over the course of treatment. Equine therapy has proven to be an effective addition to our program that has helped people from many different walks of life.
What Our Equine Therapy Program Entails
The horses that we use at Renaissance Ranch are lovingly brought in each week by a local neighbor who wants to help people in need. Equine therapy treatment is applicable to both the men’s and women’s programs and can be utilized in a variety of ways. For some people, riding the horses is incredibly therapeutic, and allows for a deep connection with the animal that is brought out through physical activity. However, equine therapy can be just as effective without actual horseback riding. A large part of the program involves caring for the horses by grooming and feeding them, thus building a stronger bond.
Empathetic Powers of Horses
A lot of people have one specific question about equine therapy: “Why horses?” Well, it is certainly true that all sorts of animals have tremendous therapeutic benefits. It’s for this reason that many people use dogs, cats, mice, lizards, snakes, and even spiders for emotional support animals. There are tangible benefits that each of these animals is bringing to a patient. However, there is something about horses that people seem to really connect to. The size of these animals and the fact that each of them portrays a very outward personality helps people empathize with them.
The horses that we use are gentle animals that are quite loving. This enables people to build emotional intelligence that helps promote insight and self-reflection, which are crucial aspects of recovery. It’s for this reason that horses have proven to be incredibly helpful for people who have struggled with many types of mental health problems, including PTSD, OCD, anxiety, and depression, among other things.
What Equine Therapy Teaches
Addiction really takes a toll on a person’s social skills and relationships. The isolation that addicts experience makes it difficult for them to relate to other people, and often make them hesitant to become close to anyone. Equine therapy is a way to break through this barrier because participants are able to trust a horse more easily than they could another person. Horses don’t pass judgment or tell lies. They allow those working with them to form a bond that they don’t have to question or second guess. This helps them to learn to trust again, which is a skill that can be used later on to rebuild relationships.
It can be difficult for those in recovery to understand the full scope of their addiction, and to really take responsibility for the damage that their behavior has done to others. They may have fallen out of the habit of caring for themselves or others, losing all of their sense of responsibility to their addiction. Horses are animals that are unable to care for themselves in captivity and must rely on their human friends to help them. Assigning an addict the tasks of feeding, exercising and grooming a horse is a way for an equine therapist to start to give the addict a sense of responsibility and some ownership over their own actions. They would be able to comprehend how not meeting their responsibilities can harm others, and start to see how their life has affected other lives.
Dealing with addiction can cause a person to become emotionally numb and unable to express their feelings in a healthy way. They have probably turned to substance abuse for quite some time in order to fill this need and will need to re-learn how to express themselves in a healthy way. Equine therapy allows feelings and emotions to surface naturally as participants work with the horses.
Those in the group are likely to feel fear at first when dealing with the horses and will learn to overcome their fear as they form a bond with the animals. They will have to be patient and consistent in order to be successful in building trust with the animal. Often times, the horse’s emotions are mirrors of those of the handler, which allows participants to see something of themselves in the horses, and alter their behavior and emotions in order to make the horse more comfortable. This helps them to learn to recognize and control their emotions without using drugs or alcohol.
Equine therapy also helps participants to practice teamwork, problem-solving, and to have a little fun in recovery. Besides these benefits, working with horses has been shown to have some physical benefits for people as well. Those who spend time with horses have lower stress levels, lower blood pressure, and reduced levels of anger, hostility and anxiety. These and many other reasons make equine therapy a great option for those on the road to recovery.