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Equine Assisted Psychotherapy


What is Equine Therapy?

Equine assisted therapy is an active psychotherapeutic intervention involving horses and guided by a trained equine therapist. Therapy can be conducted on an individual or group basis depending on the addiction treatment needs.

People suffering from alcohol and drug addiction, emotional trauma (including PTSD and dissociative process), low-self esteem, eating disorders, learning difficulties, anxiety and depression can all benefit from therapy with horses.

“Equine therapy gives the patients the opportunity to learn more about themselves with the horses, and also to allow them time to practise the skills they’re learning in the clinic in a safe environment.” – Niamh Mullen, EAGALA Accredited Equine Therapist, Smarmore Castle

How do Horses Help Addiction Treatment?

During equine therapy powerful personal learning takes place in a physically and emotionally safe environment.

Horses are expert non-verbal communicators, hence their successful existence for 50 million years. When engaging with horses we find alternative ways of relating to the world around us.

“People will always come into the arena a little bit apprehensive, not knowing what it’s about. They often think it’s about horsemanship and learning about doing things with the horses. They often come in with fear and anxiety. But during the weeks, what you see happen to people is that they come into the arena feeling calmer. They’re looking forward to spending time with an animal that doesn’t judge them, that has no preconceptions, and gives back loads to them, the calmer and the more affectionate they are with them.” – Niamh Mullen, EAGALA Accredited Equine Therapist, Smarmore Castle

Every week residents at Smarmore Castle undergoing equine therapy work on trusting one another, on being able to ask each other for help, and also to be able to become more aware of themselves and improve their self-awareness and self-confidence. When they’re carrying out a task with the horse, they will be able to identify in the horse or in other people in the task, things that are happening outside of the arena in their everyday lives.

“If someone comes into the arena and they’re angry or frustrated, the horses will react immediately to this. It’s as if the horses hold up mirror to the patient for their behavior and how it impacts others. So it always builds the feeling of teamwork, of fun, and of having support, and that comes through in every task that we ever set in the arena.”

What happens in the arena is a metaphor for what is happening outside the clinic in patient’s everyday lives and with their addiction, and it often gives people the opportunity to work on their relationships and practise ways to behave differently when they leave.

Benefits of Equine Therapy in Addiction Treatment

  • Assertiveness
  • Building personal boundaries
  • Self-awareness                              
  • Confidence
  • Social skills
  • Aiding communication
  • Anxiety reduction
  • Greater trust
  • Resilience
  • Responsiveness (as opposed to an impulsive reaction)
  • Anger management

What Our Residents Say

“It helped me process really heavy weeks and got me really fast and in the here and now.”

“I feel noticeably calmer, less detached and able to interact better with people as my patience level has dramatically improved. My depression has lessened as well.”

“As I have never been around horses I didn’t think I would achieve anything but I did and have had my eyes opened.”

“On Fridays (equine therapy day) I have my best night sleep.”

“…lowering my stress level significantly.”

Related pages

Last updated & clinically assessed 10 June, 2021