Equine Therapy: Physical and Psychological Strength for Riders
By Nikki Sue Alston
New Science, Old Methods
We all know the benefits of Service Animals like dogs and cats, but did you know that horses can be used in therapy as well? Therapeutic Riding embraces the horse as a partner, assisting their rider with activities that challenge both the mind and body. These equine-assisted activities enhance physical, emotions, social, cognitive, behavioral and education skills for people with disabilities. There haven’t been many studies done on the benefits of equine-assisted therapy, but physical therapists’ progress notes, as well as reports from physicians, teachers, parents, and patients affirm its benefits.
This is Your Brain On Horseback (Theoretically)
There are a very wide variety of physical/emotional/cognitive disabilities that can benefit from therapy provided through horseback riding: ADD/ADHD, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Autism, Amputations, Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, behavioral problems, learning disabilities, depression, anxiety, and PTSD to name a few. Horses can be therapeutic in so many different ways. Some riders benefit from the connection and relationship-building aspect of the horse in their environment while others may benefit physically from the riding movements, building strength, body awareness, and muscle memory.
Horse-Love, Sweet, Sweet Horse-Love
Cool Sciencey Factoid:
The human heart has a larger electromagnetic field and higher level of intelligence than the brain: A magnetometer can measure a person’s heart energy field radiating up to 10 feet around the human body. Given that the horse’s heart is 5X larger, the horse’s electromagnetic field is stronger than ours and can actually directly influence our own heart rhythm in its presence. Horses are also likely to have what science has identified as a “coherent” heart rhythm (heart rate pattern) which explains why we may “feel better” when we are around them.
Theirs Are Always Bigger Than Ours.
Science has shown that a coherent heart pattern is a strong measure of well-being and consistent with emotional states of happiness and peace, which we exhibit patterns of when we feel positive emotions. A coherent heart pattern is suggestive of a strong physical and emotional system that is able to recover and adjust to stressful situations very proficiently. Often, we only need to be in a horse’s presence to feel a sense of wellness and peace. Research shows some of the physiological benefits people experience while interacting with horses include lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased levels of beta-endorphins (neurotransmitters that serve as pain suppressors), decreased stress, reduced feelings of anger, hostility, tension, anxiety, and improved social skills.
Live in the Lake Area? Get Involved.
Lake Charles’ own, The Stables at Le Bocage, has established Reins of Hope Therapeutic Riding Program which has been PATH Certified (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship). They pride themselves on using a team approach to provide treatment for individuals with the guidance of highly trained and certified instructors and their partners, the horses. They look forward to bringing a new and highly anticipated therapy to the Lake Area. With all the different physical, emotional, and cognitive ways therapeutic riding can help, this is sure to have a big impact on our community.
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