Why Choose Horses?
Although many other therapies have various animal-assisted programs, including dogs, cats, and birds, EAP remains one of the most popular forms of animal-assisted therapies. Horses provide a unique experience regarding therapy because of their gentle and intuitive nature. As prey animals, horses easily become acutely attuned to the environments around them. Horses can detect the slightest change in your demeanor or attitude towards them, and they will act accordingly. If you approach a therapy horse with fear, they will, in turn, be fearful of you. Likewise, if you present yourself to a horse with respect and with relaxed body language, they should quickly reflect your sense of peace.
Horses Require More Work Than Dogs and Cats
EAP helps patients overcome addiction due to the amount of care a horse requires. It makes the patient focus on something outside of themselves and their addiction. Feeding, brushing, and cleaning up after a horse can take up many hours in a day. But patients also spend these hours repairing emotional trauma, rebuilding brain and body connections, and restoring self-confidence. Caring for a horse helps build a bond between the horse and the patient, inspiring empathy, respect, and commitment. Patients do not have to talk about their drug or alcohol problems during equine-assisted therapy but instead live within the “here and now” moment by taking care of these noble creatures.
EAP in Comparison to Other Treatments
Although there haven’t been many U.S. studies conducted on exactly how equine therapy is used in addiction treatment, much anecdotal evidence exists. Most EAP programs start with staff who saw the treatment in action for themselves. Due to these factors, it is not clearly known if the horses themselves promote positive outcomes in treatment. Behavioral changes could be brought about simply because patients spend time outside, engage in physical activity, or get to work with different types of therapists. One 2015 study involving in-hospital psychiatric patients compared EAP to regular mental health treatment, canine-assisted therapy, and social skills-based treatment. It found that violent behavior decreased most with the animal-supported therapies and that of the two, EAP worked the best.