What is Equine-Assisted Therapy?

I am talking a lot about horses and therapy and equine-assisted therapy and learning and, and, and… but what actually is equine-assisted therapy?

Equine-assisted therapy (EAT) is an experiential therapy that uses a certified mental health professional and an equine to positively impact physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being. I am not a mental health professional and do not practice equine-assisted therapy. However, I wanted to explain a bit about what EAT is to head off any future questions.

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Why Horses?

Animal-assisted therapies are growing in popularity and used with pigs, dogs, birds, cats, and horses, just to name a few. I believe all animals are beneficial to our mental and emotional health and wellness, but there are specific reasons to use equines. Horses are unique in therapeutic purposes because of their size, their history, and their movement.

Horses are prey animals so they are always in tune with their environment. They are herd animals, so they are accustomed to working as a group and relying on the herd to meet their survival needs. Horses are also rideable, so they add a layer of movement to therapy work. The horse has an almost identical skeletal structure to a human, which means their movement is very similar to a humans. This is one reason why therapeutic riding is so impactful.

However, a person does not need to ride to benefit from the therapeutic nature of a horse. There are countless ways horses help people, but I will outline a few of the most common today.

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Develop a Lesson Plan

It’s important to have a plan for each lesson. Some programs run continuously while others have sessions. I work at a continuous program but I like to still think of “sessions” so there is a goal to work toward at the end of 6, 7, 8 weeks – whatever the case may be.

I plan backwards, so if the end goal is to do a posting trot on lead, I set up each lesson to work towards that goal. It’s important to know what your benchmark is before a rider can work towards a posting trot. For me, that means the rider needs to already be walking off lead, able to stop and steer their horse. The rider may also need to already have the balance and strength at the sitting trot, but that is for the instructor to decide individually. Below is an example of how I might lay out the lesson goals for a rider who is riding at the walk independently and sitting the trot.

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