Equine assisted therapy

Concordia’s Director of Graduate Counseling shares about equine therapy.

When you hear the word therapy many different ideas, thoughts, and images may come to mind. For some, this word may bring up images of stuffy rooms and couches. Talk therapy may be the most common and accessible mode of therapy. However, it is not the only option if you are looking for ways to improve your mental health, well-being, and happiness.

Have you ever noticed how being around animals tends to make us happy? Calm? In the moment? Equine Assisted Therapy is a specific type of therapy that can help you do that while working on emotional and behavioral improvements.

What is Equine Assisted Therapy?

Equine Assisted Therapy is not therapy for horses. It is defined by Psychology Today as “activities with horses that are conducted while being supervised by a mental health professional and a horse trainer or other equine specialist.”

Horses have a tremendous ability to connect with humans and sense their feelings and emotions. Horses are extremely perceptive, sensitive, and tuned in to the environment around them. They are herd animals. This means they are naturally empathic as they always look out for those around them (others in their herd). This makes them great partners in the growth and healing journey as they create a relaxing environment to be in.

Horses can help clients experientially build trust, learn to navigate relationships, help increase self-confidence, decrease the sense of isolation and anxiety, and much more. Clinical documentation indicates changes in human brainwave patterns and heartbeat pace by simply being around horses.

You may be thinking: “No way, horses scare me!” That’s ok! A great part of this experience is learning to overcome those fears. And there is a dedicated equine specialist in the session that is there to keep both you and the horse safe.

From personal experience

I recently started volunteering at a local farm, Hopes Chariot, that offers Equine Assisted Therapy and Equine Assisted Learning. My lifelong love of horses led me to the farm for my own self-care and to get back to the calm that horses provide me. This quickly became an opportunity to join the therapy team at Hope’s Chariot.

We work with children, adolescents, and adults to provide experiential learning opportunities with horses. In fact, some clients come to the farm and have an initial fear of horses. Through observing, participating in horse care (brushing, walking, etc.), and working with horses, clients, in general, quickly find friendship and companionship in their new equine friends.

Hope’s Chariot, Inc. is a non-profit organization, and the mission is to provide “the opportunity to improve mental health and well-being for individuals with special needs. These experiences provide education and growth, empowering and building resiliency in all individuals participating therein.”

So if you are looking for a unique way to connect with yourself, others, and animals, as well as improve your mental health, be sure to check out local opportunities for Equine Assisted Therapy. After all, taking care of YOU is most important, and this is a unique and fun way to do that.

Want in?

Beyond Equine Assisted Therapy, Concordia offers a variety of services for students right here on campus, including peer support groups, a sensory room, a stress management lab, and more. Not sure where to start? Start by emailing the Student Wellness Intake/Triage Coordinator at StudentWellness@cuw.edu or visit the Counseling Center website to explore options.

If you’re interested in helping others through counseling, Concordia offers a master’s-level counseling program you should explore.

This story is written by Leah Herr who serves as an assistant professor and director of Concordia’s graduate counseling program.