You have likely heard of Equine Therapy before. In recent years, it has become increasingly accepted as a powerful therapeutic tool.
The idea of animals assisting humans in healing is not new. In the late 1800s, Florence Nightingale noted that her patients seemed to be less anxious and heal more quickly if animals were around. Notable psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and Boris Levinson also used animals with patients suffering from mental or emotional trauma. They noted that in the presence of animals, patients would be less stressed and more open.
WHAT IS EQUINE THERAPY?
Arivaca Boys Ranch is a one-of-a-kind equine therapy experience for teenage boys. We are the only behavioral therapy program that teaches boys to build relationships with untrained horses. This facilitates incredible opportunities for growth and self-discovery.
Equine Therapy is an evidence-based therapeutic method that utilizes horses in the process of mental and behavioral health treatments. The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH International) defines any horse-person interaction to have therapeutic value. But our equine therapy program has more specific and structured goals.
Research has shown that Equine Therapy is very effective in treating adolescents who experience anxiety, depression, and or/ trauma-related symptoms, as well those who experience drug and alcohol dependency, ADHD, autism, and a range of other mental health challenges. It also has profound success in changing behavioral approaches to challenges, including anger management and unhealthy relationship attachment styles.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF EQUINE THERAPY?
Research on animal-assisted therapies suggests that contact with horses is helpful in reducing anxiety and distress.
IMPROVING DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS
Depression is often associated with feelings of rejection and can be an isolating experience. If trained responsively, Horses accept people unconditionally, their loyalty helps boys feel connected to another living creature, which can open the door for connection with other people as well.
Mindfulness is part of every step of the equine therapy journey. Horses are always present. They don’t worry about the past or the future; they live in the now. To communicate with a horse we too must be present, centered, and focused. Horses are empaths and mirror our emotions. Working with a horse is like getting immediate bio-feedback. Learning to be mindful with a horse helps boys to learn to be mindful in other areas of their life.
Teenagers who struggle with impulsivity or who lack self-control can greatly benefit from working with horses. Communicating with a horse requires calmness and patience. Learning to communicate with a horse cultivates emotional awareness, self-control, cooperation, and emotional and behavioral regulation. It can also reduce irritability, agitation, and impulsivity.
As boys learn to communicate with their horse they develop intuition and patience. Because Horses are non-verbal they need to learn to communicate with the horse on its terms. They need to learn its language. Because horses are empaths it becomes necessary for boys to turn inward and come to terms with their emotional state before they can effectively work with the horse.
The first thing learned as a boy starts working with a horse is trust. He learns to trust his horse, his therapist, and his abilities. Trust is a crucial step toward healing relationships, both with others and oneself. A boy's relationship of trust with his horse can open the door for him in repairing and rebuilding trust in other relationships in his life.
Many of our boys are self-conscious about their lack of experience with horses when they first arrive, they are hesitant to work with the horses because they don’t want to embarrass themselves. As they work through this they learn that progress is a journey and that they are capable of accomplishing difficult things if they work hard and focus on their progress. As a boy bonds with his horse and learns to communicate he fosters a powerful relationship where he is accepted for who he is.
WHAT MAKES OUR EQUINE THERAPY PROGRAM UNIQUE?
Many other equine therapy programs are more like a pony ride or petting zoo situation. Most of them have a few horses, which many different clients will work with and share. Our program is unique because we assign each boy his own horse to work with and train. The relationship that a boy will foster with his horse over the duration of his stay is an opportunity to develop a one-on-one relationship with strong bonds that can teach important lessons of introspection and growth.
Boys learn to take responsibility for the general wellbeing of their assigned horse. They are tasked with feeding, training, grooming, and other general care. As they learn to be responsible and work through challenges in partnership with their horse, they learn valuable relationship lessons, build self-esteem, and develop patience and resilience.
We provide work and animal care challenges appropriate to our setting as a working horse ranch and high school. As boys develop a relationship with their horse they learn that negative behaviors are ineffective. Being hot-tempered and forceful makes horses less responsive. Once a young man can demonstrate to himself that persuasion is achievable through gentleness and kind deeds, he begins to realize that there are better ways than the ones they have been applying in their daily lives.