The Benefits of Horse Human Interactions

Simply being with an animal, can provide moments of happiness, calm, and positive motivation. The benefits can vary tremendously, including:

  • improving communication skills, or developing socialisation skills,
  • learning impulse control, or emotional management,
  • providing a sense of self-worth, or self-efficiency.

Importantly, for some, being high up at eye level, or even above the eye level of others can provide an enormous boost to self-esteem. It is a perspective that some clients have never had before, and perhaps do not get from any other activity.

Developing Physical Skills

Working with a horse provides exercise for individuals who need help developing fine motor skills (in the small muscles of the fingers, toes, wrists, etc.) and gross motor skills (large muscles in the legs, arms and torso).

Sitting on a moving horse mobilises joints, and muscles in a way that does not require the participant to actively strive, or think about performing the same actions in a rehabilitation setting. Core muscles, in particular, are used to help keep the torso upright. The latest research suggests that the movement of the horse also stimulates the brain and cognition.

Horses as Mirrors

Horses are excellent communicators, using body language, more than verbal cues. They, like many animals, reflect our own behaviour, unconscious physical cues, and energy levels (body language). Working with horses can help people learn how to communicate with others in new ways, and understand the way their behaviour impacts others. Some find the non-judgemental interaction with horses gives them the ability to reflect on themselves in a positive way, and learn new ways to interact with others.

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There is a lot of anecdotal evidence for the benefits of interactions with animals in general, and with horses in particular. Scientific research is being performed into all sorts of aspects of equine assisted learning, or therapy, and the results of many are intriguing and encouraging.

Here are a few:

The science behind equine-assisted activities and therapeutic riding read here

An overview article at Michigan State University, with links to a number of US based organisations

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

Something About A Horse: Finding Benefits in Therapeutic Riding Read Here >>

Interactive Autism Network at Kennedy Krieger Institute, Published: May 25, 2016

The Effect of Therapeutic Horseback Riding on Social Functioning in Children with Autism Read the full Report Here>>

Published online: 7 April 2009 Springer Science+Business Media

"This study is the first of its kind to evaluate and quantify the impact of horseback riding on social functioning. Our results indicate that therapeutic horseback riding may be a beneficial intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder."

... improved in critical areas such as sensory integration and directed attention. Participants also demonstrated improved social motivation and sensory sensitivity, as well as decreased inattention and distractibility ...

Effectiveness of a Standardized Equine Assisted Therapy Program for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder Read Full Report Here >>

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2015

...after attending a EAT program, children in our sample showed an improvement in social functioning, and ameliorated executive abilities, namely reduced latency of the first move during a problem-solving task...Moreover, our study points out promising—although still preliminary— effects of riding activities with horses on motor skills in subjects with ASD.

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP)Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) is the practice of using horses for emotional growth. Participants in therapy use feelings, behaviors, and patterns to better understand the horse and themselves. Read More Here >>

A Comparative Study of the Efficacy of Group Equine Assisted Counseling With At-Risk Children and Adolescents Read the full Report Here >> Journal of Creativity in Mental Health

This study demonstrated the effectiveness of Equine Assisted Counseling by comparing it to an existing and empirically supported award-winning school-based counseling intervention called Kids Connection (Rainbow Days Inc., 1998, 2006).

Equine Assisted Therapy and at-risk Youth Read the full Report Here>>

unpublished masters thesis. This study was important because it provided empirical evidence to affirm EAP as an effective intervention for at-risk adolescents.

Physical Therapy

Effect of Therapeutic Horseback Riding on Posture in Children with Cerebral Palsy Read the full Report Here>>

...The children appeared to make dramatic improvements in self-confidence, with less fear of movement and position change. ...This study demonstrates that therapeutic riding can be a valuable therapeutic modality for children with spastic CP.