When you think of therapeutic animals, you probably first think of dogs for their friendliness and the impressive number of skills they can learn. However, were you aware that horses are also great therapy animals? While certainly not for everyone, horse enthusiasts will be delighted to know that such sensitive creatures can benefit you, too. Here’s why horses make effective therapeutic animals.
Sympathy and Sensitivity
While those unfamiliar with horses may regard them as creatures apathetic to anyone’s emotions other than their own, that could not be further from the truth. Horses have become increasingly popular therapy animals because they provide immediate feedback to a handler or rider’s actions. Their incredible sense of empathy makes understanding and riding a horse much easier for the handler. Horses will mirror the feelings of their handlers and riders, making the two of you far more in tune with each other than other human-animal therapy companions.
Horses are naturally nervous creatures and typically pair well with those suffering from intense anxiety. Why? In cognitive therapy, for example, patients can observe the horse’s response to stressful situations to help them better understand how they feel. If patients can talk about their horse’s experiences rather than their own, it might make talking about their anxiety easier. Horses have a heightened awareness of their surroundings – often trying to flee in dangerous situations. Their awareness is one of the many determining factors for why horses make effective therapeutic animals.
Planned activities are another common application. Patients experiencing intense anxiety often try to avoid complex tasks outside of their comfort zone. Performing activities with their horse that require planning, such as bathing or feeding them, can help assuage such fears around complex tasks.
A Symbiotic Relationship
The relationship between horse and handler is a symbiotic one. Whereas therapy dogs are happy to serve and help their owners, horses learn and grow alongside their handlers thanks to feedback and mirroring behaviors. Because horses are unbiased herd creatures who often provide instant feedback, you’ll come to intimately understand your horse. Furthermore, your horse will try to mimic your behavior and emotions as much as possible because they’re such keen observers, ensuring you always have an attentive companion.