Equine Rehabilitation Centers for Substance Abuse
Equine rehabilitation centers offer equine therapy as one form of treatment for substance abuse and mental health disorders. Therapists lead participants in activities with a horse so that participants can better understand their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Some research suggests these programs can help reduce negative emotions and improve overall well-being.1
What Is Equine Therapy?
Equine therapy, or equine-assisted therapy, is a form of therapy used to treat substance abuse and certain mental health conditions, among other issues. A trained professional leads the therapy and helps guide participants through interactions with a horse.
The type of therapeutic activities may vary depending on the facilitator and the participant. Activities may include:
- Feeding and grooming the horse.
This form of treatment may take place individually or with a group of children, adolescents, or adults. The therapy can help participants process their thoughts and feelings and gain a better understanding of their emotions and behaviors by reflecting on their time with the horse. It can also help participants learn to be more present in the moment.
Equine therapy can be used to treat several different conditions, including:3
- Drug and alcohol addiction.
- Emotional, behavioral, and mental health disorders.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder with veterans and non-veterans.
- Violence, abuse, or trauma.
- Autism and other developmental disorders.
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
- Cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
- Neurological and movement disorders, such as cerebral palsy.
- Terminal illness.
- Learning disabilities.
Researched studies have found that participating in equine therapy can lead to positive benefits such as:1,2
- Greater self-esteem.
- Improved mood.
- Increased feelings of self-worth and empowerment.
- Increased confidence.
- Reduced guilt and resentment.
- Less fear about the future.
- Greater self-efficacy.
- Better communication skills.
- Improved attention.
- Less anger.
However, more research is needed before equine therapy is viewed as an evidenced-based practice, rather than a promising experimental treatment adjunct.1
How It Works
A certified equine therapist guides a person through a variety of actions with a horse. The therapist provides instruction and then observes the interaction between the participant and the horse and provides feedback as necessary.
The therapist may guide participants through grooming, saddling, leading, and herding the horse. More advanced activities may include riding and vaulting.
During the course of a session, the therapist helps the participant process emotions related to the activity and reflect on what was learned about the participant’s own feelings and behaviors.
Finding an accredited treatment center or certified equine therapist ensures that the program or therapist has met certain training requirements and has knowledge of how to use equine therapy to help treat mental health conditions.
- The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH International) provides credentialing for treatment centers that offer equine therapy and certifies instructors and equine specialists.
- The Certification Board for Equine Interaction Professionals (CBEIP) ensures that therapists have met education and training requirements and have passed a national exam.
A list of accredited programs and certified providers is available on each organization’s website.
Use in Drug and Alcohol Rehab Programs
A trained therapist helps a person develop a healthy relationship and a sense of trust with both the horse and the therapist. Drug and alcohol rehabs use a number of services to treat addiction. Equine therapy is just one form of therapy that may be incorporated into a comprehensive substance abuse treatment regimen. Other services to treat addiction include:
- Detoxification for drug and alcohol withdrawal.
- Group, individual, and family therapy sessions.
- Behavioral therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Medication-assisted treatment.
- Twelve-step meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
When used in combination with other medical and psychological treatment interventions, equine therapy can help a person understand feelings that may be out of their awareness and how their behavior affects others. A trained therapist helps a person develop a healthy relationship and a sense of trust with both the horse and the therapist. Over time, an addicted person can then translate this experience to other relationships in his or her life.
Equine therapy may also lead to improved confidence and well-being, which may reduce the desire for drugs and alcohol.
If you or someone you know is struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and would like more information about equine rehabilitation centers, call 1-888-968-9816 Who Answers? . Our treatment center placement advisors can assist you in finding a horse rehab facility.
- Lentini, J. A., & Knox, M. (2009). A qualitative and quantitative review of equine facilitated psychotherapy (EFP) with children and adolescents. The Open Complementary Medicine Journal, 1(1), 51-57.
- Berget, B., Ekeberg, Ø., & Braastad, B. O. (2008). Animal-assisted therapy with farm animals for persons with psychiatric disorders: effects on self-efficacy, coping ability and quality of life, a randomized controlled trial. Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health, 4(1), 9.
- Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International. (2015). 2015 PATH International Fact Sheet – Special Needs Served.