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Exploring the Benefits of Equine-Assisted Therapy for Mental Health

Written by Samantha Carter

Mental health is a crucial aspect of overall well-being, and finding effective treatments is a priority for those struggling with mental challenges. Equine-assisted therapy (EAT), a promising therapeutic approach that leverages the unique bond between humans and horses, has been shown to facilitate emotional and psychological healing.

In this article, we’ll be exploring the history and benefits of equine-assisted therapy as well as some peer-reviewed studies on its efficacy. One of the many services offered by APN, equine-assisted therapy serves as a powerful tool for addressing trauma, improving relationships, and developing confidence. By exploring EAT and other alternative mental health services, it is possible to cultivate a more well-rounded approach to mental healthcare to enhance healing and overall well-being.

The History of Equine-Assisted Therapy

Equine-assisted therapy has a rich history that traces back to ancient civilizations, evolving through the centuries into the sophisticated therapeutic practice it is today. Understanding the historical context of EAT provides a deeper appreciation for its development and role in modern mental healthcare.

Ancient Origins

The therapeutic use of horses dates back to ancient times. The earliest recorded use of horses in a therapeutic context can be found in ancient Greek literature. Around 600 BC, the Greek physician Hippocrates, often referred to as the “Father of Medicine,” wrote about the therapeutic value of horseback riding. He described riding as beneficial for both physical health and mental well-being, noting its ability to improve the rider’s mood and physical condition.

Renaissance Era

During the Renaissance, the use of horses for therapeutic purposes continued to be recognized. In the 16th century, Spanish noblemen, including the influential horse trainer Juan de Andrada, promoted the benefits of horseback riding for physical therapy and rehabilitation. They believed that riding could enhance physical strength, coordination, and posture.

Modern Developments

The formalization of equine-assisted therapy as a recognized therapeutic practice began in the mid-20th century. However, one of the most significant milestones in the history of EAT occurred in the 1950s, thanks to Danish dressage rider Liz Hartel. Despite being paralyzed from polio, Hartel won a silver medal in dressage at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Her remarkable recovery and success highlighted the physical and psychological benefits of horseback riding, inspiring the therapeutic use of horses for people with disabilities.

Inspired by Hartel’s achievements, therapeutic riding programs began to emerge in Europe and North America. In 1969, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA), now known as the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.), was established. This organization played a crucial role in standardizing therapeutic riding practices and promoting research and education in the field.

Expansion into Mental Health

While initial efforts focused on physical rehabilitation, the psychological benefits of interacting with horses soon gained recognition. In the 1990s, equine-assisted therapy began to expand into the realm of mental health. Practitioners observed that working with horses helped individuals develop emotional regulation, build trust, and improve self-esteem. These observations led to the development of structured therapeutic models incorporating horses into mental health treatment.

Equine-Assisted Therapy Today

Today, EAT is a widely accepted and utilized therapeutic approach for addressing a variety of mental health issues, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, and substance use. Several models of equine-assisted therapy have emerged, each with its own unique methodology and focus.

Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP)

EAP involves a licensed therapist working with clients and horses to address psychological issues. The therapist guides clients through activities with the horse, facilitating discussions and reflections that promote emotional healing and personal growth.

Equine-Facilitated Learning (EFL)

EFL focuses on personal development and learning through interactions with horses. It is often used to enhance leadership skills, improve communication, and foster team-building. While not always conducted by licensed therapists, EFL practitioners are trained to facilitate experiential learning experiences.


Hippotherapy uses the movement of the horse as a treatment strategy for physical, occupational, and speech therapy. While primarily focused on physical rehabilitation, hippotherapy can also have significant psychological benefits.

Research and Evidence-Based Practice

The body of research supporting EAT continues to grow, with numerous studies highlighting its effectiveness. Modern research has provided empirical evidence for the benefits of EAT, validating the observations made by early practitioners and expanding its application in clinical settings.

The Benefits of Equine-Assisted Therapy

Equine-assisted therapy is often used to address various mental health issues with multifaceted benefits and applications. Below, we have listed some of the positive outcomes of this therapy.

Emotional Regulation and Stress Reduction

One of the primary benefits of equine-assisted therapy is its ability to help individuals regulate their emotions. Horses have a gentle and non-judgmental nature. In turn, this provides a calming presence that can help reduce anxiety and stress. The rhythmic movement of riding can also have a soothing effect, similar to the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.

Building Trust and Improving Relationships

Interacting with horses requires individuals to build trust and establish a connection. This process can mirror human relationships and help individuals learn to trust others and improve their interpersonal skills. For those with trauma or attachment issues, forming a bond with a horse can be a safe and transformative experience that may lead to larger breakthroughs in other relationships.

Enhancing Self-Esteem and Confidence

Successfully working with a horse can boost self-esteem and confidence. Accomplishing tasks such as grooming, leading, or riding a horse can provide a sense of achievement and empowerment. This increased confidence can translate into other areas of life, fostering a more positive self-image.

Non-Verbal Communication and Empathy

Horses are highly attuned to non-verbal cues, which can help individuals become more aware of their body language and emotions. This heightened awareness can improve communication skills and empathy as individuals learn to interpret and respond to the horse’s behavior.

Physical Benefits

In addition to mental health benefits, EAT can provide physical benefits. The physical activity involved in riding and caring for horses can improve fitness, coordination, and balance. This combination of physical and mental engagement makes EAT a holistic therapeutic approach.

Peer-Reviewed Studies on Equine-Assisted Therapy

Several studies have highlighted the effectiveness of equine-assisted therapy in improving mental health outcomes.

Reduction in PTSD Symptoms

One study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that equine therapy significantly reduced PTSD and depression for veterans just three months after treatment. The interaction with horses helped the participants develop coping strategies for their trauma and build emotional resilience in their everyday lives.

Improvement in Emotional Regulation and Self-Esteem for SUD Patients

Another study showed significant improvement in emotional regulation, self-efficiency, and self-esteem with substance abuse patients.

Enhanced Emotional Well-Being in Adolescents

Multiple studies have found that equine-assisted therapy improved emotional well-being and reduced behavioral problems in adolescents with mental health issues. Several of these studies noted that the structured and supportive environment of EAT was particularly beneficial for this age group.

Improving Occupational Engagement

One study confirmed that equine-assisted therapy helped to improve occupational engagement amongst participants leading to enhanced personal development and a greater sense of agency.

APN Lodge’s Comprehensive Mental Health Programs

When you start to unravel the numerous benefits of a holistic approach to your mental health by exploring activities like equine-assisted therapy, it becomes easier to see how other alternative approaches could also help improve your well-being. That’s why All Points North Lodge (APN) offers a wide range of programs tailored to address mental health, trauma, and substance abuse. These programs integrate equine therapy with other evidence-based and holistic treatments to provide a comprehensive approach to mental healthcare. Below are some of the many offerings provided by APN.

Equine Therapy

At APN Lodge, equine therapy is a core component of the mental health treatment program. The serene and supportive environment allows clients to engage with horses under the guidance of trained therapists. This interaction promotes emotional healing and personal growth.


Psychotherapy at APN includes individual and group therapy sessions led by experienced therapists. These sessions provide a safe space for clients to explore their thoughts and feelings, develop coping strategies, and work through trauma and mental health issues.


APN’s psychiatric services offer medical evaluations, medication management, and ongoing support from board-certified psychiatrists. This integrated approach ensures that clients receive comprehensive care tailored to their specific needs.

Mindfulness Training

Mindfulness training at APN helps clients develop techniques to stay present and manage stress. Through guided mindfulness exercises, clients learn to cultivate awareness and acceptance, which can enhance their overall mental well-being.


Yoga sessions at APN combine physical movement with breath control and meditation, promoting relaxation and mental clarity. This practice supports the mind-body connection and contributes to overall wellness.

Spa and Relaxation

The spa and relaxation services at APN provide clients with opportunities to unwind and de-stress. Therapeutic massages, hydrotherapy, and other relaxation techniques help to rejuvenate the body and mind.

Meditation and Breathwork

APN offers meditation and breathwork sessions to help clients achieve mental calmness and emotional balance. These practices are particularly effective in reducing anxiety, improving focus, and enhancing emotional resilience.

Stellate Ganglion Block

The stellate ganglion block (SGB) is a cutting-edge treatment offered at APN for a variety of mental health issues. This procedure involves an injection that can significantly reduce PTSD symptoms and improve overall well-being.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) at APN involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber. HBOT has been shown to promote healing and reduce inflammation, benefiting clients with traumatic brain injuries and other mental health conditions.

Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (Deep TMS)

Deep TMS is a non-invasive treatment that uses magnetic fields to stimulate areas of the brain associated with mood regulation. This innovative therapy is effective in treating depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.

Harnessing the Power of Equine-Assisted Therapy

Equine-assisted therapy is a powerful tool for improving mental health with ample emotional, psychological, and physical benefits. Backed by peer-reviewed studies, EAT has proven to be effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety, while enhancing emotional well-being and self-confidence.

At All Points North, equine therapy is seamlessly integrated into comprehensive mental health programs and personalized treatment plans that may include psychotherapy, psychiatry, mindfulness training, yoga, and more.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, trauma, or substance abuse, consider exploring the transformative benefits of equine-assisted therapy at All Points North Lodge. Reach out today to learn more about our programs and how we can support you on your wellness journey.

Experience More Therapies Both In-Person and Online

It’s important to note that APN offers many other therapies both in-person and online. To learn more about our holistic approach to mental health and our numerous treatment options, schedule your free consultation today or give us a call at 855.232.8217.


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