Positive tools for thriving families.

There is increasing recognition and integration of Equine Assisted Therapy in the traditional mental health field. Growing evidence supports the effectiveness of treatment with horses in a therapeutic environmentStudies have resulted in a body of literature supporting the therapeutic value of the human-animal interaction. Equine Assisted Therapy can help adults and children with depression, anxiety, ADHD, conduct disorders, addiction, traumaeating disorders, spectrum and health difficulties, dissociative disordersAlzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other mental health difficulties.

What is Equine Assisted Psychotherapy?

Equine Assisted Therapy is a form of experiential therapy that includes horses and a specialist psychologist or counselor working together with a client (adult, adolescent, or child) to create positive change. The therapist is specifically trained in Equine Assisted Therapy in conjunction with traditional training in the mental health field. Equine Assisted Therapy often includes a number of beneficial equine activities such as observing, handling, grooming, groundwork, and structured challenging exercises focused on the adult’s or child’s needs and goals. Equine Assisted Therapy provides unique non-verbal opportunities for the client to enhance self-awareness, recognize maladaptive behaviors, identify negative feelings, and face self-defeating cognitions. It may be used for clients with psycho-social difficulties and mental health needs that can result in significant changes in cognition, mood, judgment, insight, perception, social skills, communication, behavior, and learning.

Benefits of Equine Assisted Therapy

In light of research and observational findings, experts suggest that Equine Therapy—a common form of animal-assisted therapy–may yield a variety of psychotherapeutic benefits in the following domains:

  • Trust: The first step in Equine Assisted Therapy is to trust the horse, the therapist, and yourself. This is a profound step towards growth in interpersonal relationships and healing. Learning to trust an animal such as a horse is very powerful in the development and restoration of trust for those whose ability to trust has been violated by difficult life experiences.
  • Anxiety Reduction: Research on the human-animal interaction indicate that contact with animals and horses significantly reduces physiological anxiety levels. Some are initially afraid of horses. With the support of an expert therapist and a trained therapy horse whose genuineness and affection help allay these fears, clients are empowered to embrace therapy to diminish anxiety.
  • Depression and decreasing Isolation: Depression is frequently associated with feeling rejected by peers, feeling different from peers, and feeling left out. Depression is an intrinsically isolating experience. The horse’s unconditional acceptance non-verbally encourages children and adults back into the camaraderie of life to engage in positive social interactions that decrease depression and isolation.
  • MindfulnessEquine Assisted Therapy integrates mindfulness at almost every step as the individual learns to be present, in the moment, calm, centered, focused, and fully engaged. Horses are very sensitive and pick up on others’ emotions quickly, and accurately reflect these feelings in mirroring ways to the client. One can almost experience it as bio-feedback, but it is the dynamic between the individual and the horse that is creating the feedback loop. With mindfulness, the client is able to learn new, positive ways of being, which has a significant impact on cognition, feelings, and behaviors associated depression, anxiety, trauma, obsessions, impulsivity, emotional regulation, and other mental health issues.
  • Self-Esteem: Confidence is enhanced as adults and children challenge themselves to learn and master new skills. They improve their ability to tackle new projects and challenges in a natural, non-competitive, and non-judgmental environment, which leads to improved confidence, self-assurance, and self-esteem.
  • Impulse Regulation: Individuals who struggle with impulse control and emotional regulation can benefit tremendously from Equine-Assisted Therapy. The need to communicate with a horse calmly and non-reactively promotes the skills of emotional awareness, emotion regulation, self-control, and impulse modulation. Equine-Assisted Therapy is effective in reducing a person’s irritability, agitation, and impulsivity, and increases cooperation, emotional regulation, capacity for delay, and behavioral control.
  • Self-Efficacy: Experiencing success with challenging exercises and goal focused activities in non-verbal ways fosters initiative, problem-solving, and renewed internal feelings of self-efficacy. Experiences of “I did it!” replace feelings of helplessness and lack of motivation, empowering the child, adolescent, and adult to take on challenges in many areas of coping and healing.
  • Positive Identity: As the horse and therapist work in close alliance with the client, a gradual sense of acceptance and feeling ‘liked’ emerges to enhance the client’s positive self-concept and identity. The client bonds with the horse to create a positive and healthy relationship that fosters their own identity and self-definition.
  • Communication:  Learning to communicate and achieve harmony with a large animal promotes intuition, stepping outside of one’s comfort zone, and patience. Horses’ sensitivity to non-verbal communication assists children, adolescents, and adults to develop greater awareness of their emotions, the non-verbal cues that they may be communicating, and the critical role of non-verbal communication in relationships.
  • Growth With Nature: Through Equine Assisted Therapy individuals have a unique opportunity to encounter the outdoors from a new perspective. Feelings of joy and connection are often discovered or revived as we experience nature’s beauty in a renewed way. Especially for children and teenagers, engaging in therapy in a more natural, peaceful, outdoor environment greatly enhances the benefits of therapy.
  • Self-Acceptance: Many individuals are initially concerned that they will do something embarrassing while learning about and interacting with the horses. Yet clients quickly learn that every individual has their own equine experience, and they learn to focus inwardly on their comfort level in their own skin as opposed to making comparisons. Fears of embarrassment in public are thereby often reduced and self-acceptance increased. Clients also learn that progress is a journey, and self-acceptance for every phase of that journey is critical to resilience.
  • Social Skills: Equine Assisted Therapy supports people in learning appropriate non-verbal and verbal communication, receiving and understanding positive and negative feedback, reciprocity in relationships, assertiveness, initiative, and engagement. It is very powerful in moving clients who are socially isolated or withdrawn to a more open, positive, and appropriate social platform. A positive relationship with a horse is often the first, safe step toward practicing the social skills needed to initiate closer relationships with people, learn trust, and engage in social reciprocity.
  • Assertiveness: Working effectively with a large animal can be intimidating and Equine Assisted Therapy provides the foundation for individuals to learn how to be more assertive, clear, and directive. Communicating effectively with a horse and engaging in challenging exercises that include the horse foster the client to demonstrate initiation, assertiveness, and direction; all important skills that enable them to express their needs and feelings more effectively in relationships.
  • Boundaries: Many children, adolescents, and adults have experienced prior relationships as controlling, traumatic, conflictual, or untrustworthy. Healing takes place as they discover that the relationship with horses occurs within the context of a healthy, safe, and mutually respectful relationship between themselves and the horse. Clients quickly learn that although physically bigger and more powerful, the horse typically mirrors the child’s emotions and operates within the boundaries of this safe and mutually caring relationship.
  • Creativity and Spontaneity: Many individuals with socio-emotional difficulties may be emotionally inhibited, rigid, or despondent, and are likely to have lost some sense of spontaneity. The creativity, spontaneity, and playful aspects of Equine Assisted Therapy and equine activities can help restore spontaneity, creativity, and ability for healthy recreation and play.
  • Perspective and Giving: By developing a caring and nurturing a relationship with a specific horse, the individual develops a positive attachment outside of their home and school. Through grooming activities and caring for the horse, clients are able to learn to give, nurture, connect, and put aside the absorbing focus of their struggles, self-defeating thoughts, negative, sad emotions, and anxious ruminations, and instead direct their attention and thoughts externally toward safe and caring interactions.

Equine Assisted Therapy can be a powerful and magical way to assist our children, adolescents, and adult family members in multiple social, emotional, physical, cognitive, and behavioral domains. Equine Assisted Therapy is being recognized as a more integral part of psychotherapy and mental health and can serve as a unique and effective intervention that should be considered as a resource by parents and professionals.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

16 − 5 =

  • Exceptional, impressive, thoroughly 'kid friendly' from beginning to end, "Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children" should be a part of every community library Parenting Studies collections. For families with young children who are having to deal with divorce, "Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children" will prove to be an invaluable and instructive aid.

    Editor in Chief - Midwest Book Review

  • Those of us parenting, working with, or caring for children experiencing divorce will welcome Family Changes as a unique, positive, and creative resource for helping children understand and cope with this complicated transition. The comprehensive note to adults effectively explains how children work through painful questions and feelings. The touching story—with the endearing Zoey and her attempt to understand a very grown up topic—ends with extremely helpful follow up questions that will be highly valued by parents, child advocates, therapists, and others who wish to better serve children during this difficult time. I highly recommend this book to parents and professionals.

    Sacha Coupet, Ph.D., J.D. Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor of Family Law, Loyola University, Chicago, IL

  • Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children is an outstanding book that is gentle, positive, and validating for both children and adults. With an excellent and informative parent guide about the value of talking to children about their feelings, a highly sensitive and engaging story with exquisite illustrations, and an effective list of questions that children typically ask, this book is essential reading for divorcing families, and for therapists and advocates working with children of divorce.

    Sandra A. Graham-Bermann, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Michigan

  • Family Changes is an inspiring and exceptional book on divorce. It explains divorce in a developmentally appropriate and comforting language that validates children's complex feelings about divorce. Dr. Maker's expertise and years of experience working with children who are coping with the grief and confusion that often accompany divorce shine through in every page. I highly recommend this book to divorcing parents, schools, libraries, and professionals working with children of divorce.

    Martha Crowe, M.A. Child Development, Institute for Public Health, San Diego State University, CA

  • Dr. Maker has brought us this excellent child-centric educational book about how to navigate the changes of a family undergoing divorce. Dr. Maker takes us through this experience from the child's point of view and shares the gift of positive transformation that can occur during this life-changing time. The illustrations are sublime and the topic is handled so gently and ingeniously. Of course, it is written by a child psychologist with the gift of creativity. It's a book that every child therapist, library, school, and families going through a divorce should have on their shelves.

    Krista Royabal, M.D., Psychiatrist, Executive Medical Director, True Life Center for Wellbeing, CA

  • Based on the typical emotional turbulence a child feels from separation or divorce, Family Changes receives high recommendation as the first title that adults should turn to in the effort to explain, explore, and support a child's feelings in the matter, concluding with a list of 'process questions' which adults can use to further enhance the story line's overall approach.

    CA Bookwatch/Donovan’s Literary Services/Recommended Reading

  • The story touches on several key issues that children worry about - will their parents still love them, will they have two homes now, did they somehow cause the divorce, etc. The book also opens with a straightforward Note to Adults and ends with a list of questions that adults can discuss with children. Often books that do a good job of explaining divorce and separation are so focused on the child's point-of-view, that they don't offer any advice for the parents, caregivers, and teachers that are trying to help the child makes sense of it all. Family Changes avoids that problem and gives good guidelines for adults. I would recommend this book to parents and other family members, educators, and counselors.

    NetGalley Reviews/The Fairview Review - Librarian

  • This story is filled with little moments that reflect the nature of children perfectly. If you need to explain what it means to be divorced or separated to your child then this is one of the best ways to do that. The book is filled with relatable emotions and questions that a lot of children will have if their family is going through a separation. Dr. Maker’s years of experience are evident in the story as she masterfully addresses many common concerns for children experiencing a divorce in their family.

    The Littlest Bookshelf