Equine-Assisted Therapy

When I went to the horses, I didn't know what to expect, to be honest. I would see people come back from the horses, and they would have a look on their face. And when I asked them what did they do, they wouldn't say much. All they said was "you just have to experience it". --Siam Rehab Client

Siam Rehab's addiction treatment programme includes Equine-Assisted Therapy sessions for our clients, as an optional (not required) adjunct therapy. We have had good response from our clients and most people find the therapy enlightening and enjoyable. Those who find the treatment useful, may schedule additional weekly sessions (with fees paid directly to the horse ranch).

Equine-Assisted Therapy is a broad term that encompasses several related complementary and adjunct therapies and interventions involving equines. Equines include donkeys, mules, horses, and zebra species. Some programmes include donkeys and mules, but most Equine-Assisted Therapy uses horses, including miniature horse breeds.

The Equine-Assisted Therapy at Siam Rehab's partner ranch is conducted in a beautiful valley on a 100 acre organic farm with 28 horses.

How Equine-Assisted Therapy Works

I was surprised that the horse feels what I feel. When I was confident, the horses walked up to me, but when I was feeling less confident, then the horses stopped. They really can feel what you feel. --Siam Rehab Client

Horses are highly social, communicative, and attuned to their environment and other animals within it. In many ways they act as a mirror to the body language and psychological state of humans they interact with. The experiential learning that takes place in Equine-Assisted Therapy helps people become more aware of their own state of mind and they can then interact with and develop a bond with the horses, and in so doing, with themselves. Working with horses in Equine-Assisted Therapy and Equine-Assisted Learning can be both emotionally calming as well bring insight into coping with problems or issues that arise in daily life.

One significant aspect of working with Horses in this context is that it is a direct experience rather than one which is more mental and mediated by language, such as traditional therapy. Equine-Assisted Therapy as an adjunct to traditional therapy can have significant positive impact on therapeutic progress.

We use an Equi-coaching model which is a modified Eagala approach.

The Unique Therapeutic Potential of Horses for Humans

I get a lot from counseling and I can speak about my feelings, but the horses show me how I feel, and what impression that makes on those around me. --Siam Rehab Client

Horse behavior, physiology, and psychology are unique and horses are highly sensitive to their environment and the other animals within it (including humans).

  • The horse is best understood as a prey animal, with a highly developed fight-or-flight response. They are deeply attuned to their environment and highly communicative and responsive to others in the herd.
  • The horse is a herd animal with a fairly linear, hierarchical social order. That order is reinforced through sophisticated communication and situational awareness between members of the herd. Some horse communication and body language can be understood by humans, once learned, and includes lip, ear, and tail postures as well as sounds, head, and body movements.
  • Horses have been domesticated by humans as cart animals and for riding for at least 4,500 years, and possibly much longer.

There has been a limited amount of scientific research into the use of Equine-Assisted Therapy and Equine-Assisted Learning. Nevertheless, a systematic review of effectiveness of complementary and adjunct therapies and interventions involving equines found significance in multiple research studies. There is strong evidence for effectiveness of this adjunct therapy, and further research should bear that out. In the meantime, several decades of practical implementation of Equine-Assisted Therapy and Equine-Assisted Learning have already taken place, beginning in North America and spreading to South America and Europe.

Additional Terms for Equine-Assisted Therapy

The horse therapy is very individual. We come as a group, but each one of us gets something unique and individual out of it. It helps with self-reflection, as the horse reflects your moods, your thoughts, your emotions and feelings. And as the horse reflects these things it helps for us to self-reflect, to reflect on our selves, individually and spiritually. --Siam Rehab Client

There are many different terms used for Equine-Assisted Therapy and related activities, including:

  • Equine-Assisted Learning, with a focus on experiential learning, a broader term;
  • Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy, which includes one or more psychotherapists, one or more clients, and one or more equines;
  • Equine-Assisted Activities, which extends to equine grooming, stable management;
  • Equi-coaching, which is a term popular in Europe and has a more Equine-Assisted Learning approach; and
  • Therapeutic Horseback Riding

Natural Horsemanship at Siam Rehab

Working with the horse became emotional for me. I was talking to the horse, but then I realized I was talking to myself. I was no longer facing the horse, I was facing myself. --Siam Rehab Client

Siam Rehab's partner horses are accustomed to Natural Horsemanship which consists of not using spurs, bits, or shoes on the horse. Control of and coordination relies more on communication than force. While Natural Horsemanship is increasingly popular, it has a long history which goes back at least to Xenophon in the fourth century BCE in his work On Horsemanship.