What Is Horse Therapy and How Does It Work?

Across the world, there are 881 therapeutic riding centers and 4,800 certified instructors. Additionally, out-of-pocket spending totaled $30.2 billion. This means Americans are willing to try alternative therapies.

Horse therapy has been used for many generations, even dating back to Florence Nightingale, who used companion pets in her nursing. So, how have we adapted it for our modern needs?

If this topic interests you, or you’re looking into equine therapy, keep reading as we explain everything.

What Is Horse Therapy?

Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) is also known as horse therapy. It’s a therapeutic technique that uses horses in a variety of ways. There are several types of equestrian therapy for a variety of conditions:

  • Therapeutic Horseback Riding
  • Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL)
  • Hippotherapy
  • Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP)
  • Therapeutic Carriage Driving

Horse therapy has been proven to aid both mental and physical conditions like:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Addiction
  • Spinal Cord Injuries
  • Obesity
  • Lower Leg Disabilities

Therapeutic Horseback Riding

Certified riding instructors teach therapeutic horseback riding. They teach the patient how to control the horse. The instructors’ certification training includes:

  • Educational Instruction
  • Safety
  • Competency Validation
  • Working With Disabilities
  • Equine Training and Care

The patient learns how to manage the horse while on the ground and when mounted. This therapeutic method improves balance, muscle tone, coordination, posture, confidence, and well-being.

Several equine assisted psychotherapy programs include this method as their primary technique.

Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL)

Equine-assisted learning improves communications skills, confidence building, self‐awareness, and self‐control. This is achieved by working closely with a horse. Activities include:

  • Grooming
  • Saddling
  • Riding
  • Mindfulness Techniques
  • Play Therapy
  • Non-Violent Communication

EAL can help patients improve their awareness of trust, respect, safety, leadership, confidence, boundaries, and relaxation.


No, this therapy method doesn’t involve any hippos. Instead, hippotherapy is much like therapeutic horseback riding. However, these sessions are led by:

  • Physiotherapists
  • Speech Therapists
  • Language Therapists
  • Occupational Therapists

The instructor leads the horse through several gaits, cadences, tempos, and directions. This results in the rider reacting to the changes, which strengthens and lengthens their muscles.

Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP)

Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) improves the self-esteem and confidence of its patients. Licensed professionals hold these counseling sessions. These professionals then interpret the horse’s responses during the session and relay this to the patient.

This way, the patient can learn from these interactions. In addition, this provides insight into the patient’s life by helping them learn about themselves, their feelings, motivations, etc.

Therapeutic Carriage Driving

Therapeutic carriage driving allows those with physical disabilities to participate in equine therapy. Disabilities such as:

  • Back Injuries
  • Spina Bifida
  • Lower Limb Disabilities
  • Amputation
  • Spinal Cord Injuries
  • Obesity
  • Hemiplegia

Patients sit in a modified carriage that accommodates a wheelchair. The patient then takes the reins and drives the carriage. Through this interaction, the patient learns:

  • Motor–Sensory Experiences
  • Variations of Movements
  • The Other Benefits of Horse Therapy

Find the Horse Therapy That Works for You

Horse therapy has been clinically proven to aid various conditions, from mental health to physical disabilities. It’s a safe form of alternative treatment which can also be best utilized when paired with a more traditional form of therapy. Several recovery centers are including equine therapy in their program offerings.

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