In times of unrest, it is not unusual to seek comfort in those willing to listen without judgment – our animals. They provide us a sense of well-being, peace, and understanding in a chaotic world. There are many therapeutic programs that rely on animals to promote physical and emotional growth in those with anxiety, depression, dementia, and other health issues. Animals such as dogs, pigs, and even roosters are used to help victims of abuse, at-risk youth, the elderly, and soldiers with PTSD. Horses are one of the most powerful therapeutic animals available to us.

There are several equine-assisted therapy organizations in existence. Most involve the use of a horse for riding purposes. There is no doubt that equine therapy can help build and restore confidence, trust, and social skills – however, this can be accomplished without riding. Horses are  highly social and responsive animals with behaviors very similar to our own, thus making it possible to form meaningful connections. How can we learn from our equine companions without exploiting their gentle nature?

The Purpose of a Horse

Society has long regarded the horse as a mere servant to our needs. We have spent years exploiting and utilizing them for our own entertainment. We have assigned a value on their use rather than learn to truly understand them. They are often required to have a “job,” a purpose in life. We have used them as means of transportation, as workers in agriculture, and as objects of entertainment. They have born the brunt of our abuse, neglect, and indifference.

Time after time when they no longer suit our needs or can no longer gain us a profit, we toss them aside without a second thought. It is estimated that nearly 100,000 horses are slaughtered for meat on an annual basis – school horses, racehorses, a child’s beloved companion, as well as the tired and broken ones, none are spared this horrific fate. Somewhere along the line we have either forgotten or chosen to ignore the fact that these are living beings capable of deep feeling and emotion. They have a natural ability to accept those in need without prejudice when given the chance to do so. Horses can truly make a difference in our lives. They can help us to gain confidence, accept who we are, feel at peace, and heal emotionally as well as physically – all without ever placing a saddle on their back.

Horses as Therapy Animals

For those deeply involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of neglected and abused animals, especially horses, it is a two-way street. They heal us as we heal them. At a distance, the concept may be difficult seem somewhat foreign. There is no greater feeling in the world than being in the presence of such magnificent creatures and being able to help them achieve true peace.

Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur

Jo-Anne McArthur

I have the privilege of being surrounded by a special herd of rescued horses at Penny Lane Farm Sanctuary. Each with their own unique story of how they came to live at the sanctuary, each with their own dark past, and each willing to make amends with what was. We ask nothing of them and allow them the freedom to enjoy life as horses. They are free to just be. All of them have undergone a long period of extensive rehabilitation, most notably Cowboy who was severely tortured both physically and emotionally. Despite his horrific past, he has shown no ill regard to humans. He loves unconditionally and completely.

Cowboy has been an ambassador of compassion to many that visit the sanctuary, including one volunteer suffering from PTSD as a result of a serious car accident. Their relationship grows every day, both of them well on the way to recovery. This form of equine therapy is achieved by simple daily contact, whether it is in the form of communicating or physical interaction. It is a testament to just how in tune we can be with our equine companions. When you remove the notion that a horse always needs to have a purpose, something amazing happens – you interact as equals thereby establishing a stronger relationship built entirely on trust, each achieving greater confidence along the way.

How to Get Involved

Anatole France once said, “that until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened” – a notion that is particularly relevant in understanding how horses can help heal those in need. Whether one is suffering from anxieties, depression, illness, or dealing with emotional and physical scars, being in the presence of such powerful yet serene beings has an immensely calming effect. Equine therapy can teach us to accept ourselves for who we are and help us grow emotionally.Check it out for yourself by visiting an equine or farm

Check it out for yourself by visiting an equine or farm sanctuary that allows horses to live freely. You will be amazed at the benefits.