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Discover Equine Assisted Therapy

Love horses? You don't need to, to experience the wonders of equine assisted therapy

You what? Equine therapy? That’s horses, right?

Yes, indeedy. But it’s not some yoghurt-knitting barmy army hippy thing – the use of animals within therapy can be traced back thousands of years. Their ability to read human emotion and their inherent honesty has been cited as to why we look to them so often in times of distress, and while a range of animals are well known for being therapeutic, horses are becoming particularly well known for their ability to foster change.

Horses have been used in physical therapy since the early 50s, helping people to refine their motor skills in a gentle way. Since then, the unique bond between human and horse has been incorporated into a type of psychological therapy. Equine therapy, or hippotherapy (from the Greek word ‘hippos’), puts people and horses together along with a therapist in an environment designed to promote emotional growth and learning. Used to help with a variety of mental health issues from addiction to low self-esteem, this therapy type is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. No riding experience is necessary and in most cases you won’t be required to ride the horse at all. Good job if you’re like me, then.

So, how does it work? 

To check it out, the team at Muddy trotted down (see what I did there?) to In Plain Sight, based at Greenlands Farm, a gorgeous spot in the beautiful Wiltshire village of Great Cheverell. In Plain Sight is a collaboration between Referre, a team offering psychiatric services and consultation, and the farm itself, which specialises in breeding Eriskay ponies and playing high level sports with horses.

Equine assisted therapy (EAP) is popular in both the States and Germany and is now growing rapidly this side of the pond. There are many schools of EAP. In Plain Sight works following the EAGALA (Equine Growth and Learning Association) school, which has a strong ethical code, is solutions oriented and typically involves no riding or horsemanship skills. The therapeutic team is made up of at least one horse, a therapist and a horse expert. The role of the therapy team is to guide the individual or group along the way, encouraging them to reflect on their experiences and what they mean to them. Equine assisted therapy can help with many issue and is considered to be especially helpful for those wanting to change elements of their behaviour.

At Greenlands Farm the expert team works closely with individuals or groups to help them discover more about themselves and develop new ways of thinking. They help with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, as well as corporate teams who need space to explore team dynamics and build cooperation. After an initial consultation a set of exercises will be carried out tailored to the needs of the person taking part.

What happens in an equine therapy session?

Various exercises are set up to help you think and act in ways you may not have thought of before. Normally the exercises will require you to interact with the horse; you may be asked to lead the horse over a series of obstacles or to lead it in a certain direction – often without the aid of a lead rope. There is actually no horse riding involved and if you really don’t want to you don’t even have to touch the horse.

This kind of exercise requires a creative way of thinking and may force you to reconsider the way you act. The wonderful Jemma, Shirley or one of their team is always on hand to ensure everything is safe. However you will not be told how to complete your task – it is up to you to explore different methods. The great thing about In Plain Sight is they have a team of both horses and therapists, so not only are there plenty of people in hand, there will no doubt be someone, and some horse, who you connect with.

History of equine therapy

The concept of using horses within therapy can be traced all the way back to ancient Greek times. The technique became popular in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in the 1950s when the therapy was used alongside physiotherapy for those with physical disabilities. In this type of therapy, the movements of the horse were used to influence neuromuscular changes in the patient.

In the last 20 years equine therapy has evolved to include psychological therapy. Today more and more people are discovering how empathetic animals can be in the recovery process and equine assisted therapy continues to grow in popularity.

What can equine therapy help with?

While research into the effectiveness of equine assisted therapy is still in its early stages, it is thought to be beneficial for a range of different issues, including addictions, anxiety, behavioural problems, Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, trauma and even low self confidence.

In Plain Sight also offer equine assisted learning, focussing on learning specific skills such as leadership, problem-solving, teamwork and creative thinking. This is used to great effect by local businesses, helping to train and develop their staff. Plus, it’s great fun!

Will it work for me?

Talk to them – equine assisted therapy has proven incredibly popular and you don’t need any previous experience with horses nor have to be a die-hard animal lover to benefit from it. Some of us don’t have the language to talk about what we are experiencing – just perhaps the horses will help.

Not least, it simply offers you a new way of exploring your feelings. Worth a try, we think.


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