Equine Therapy

Equine Therapy in Addiction Treatment

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The purpose of addiction treatment is to help reshape and restore the mind, body, and soul of an individual suffering from substance abuse disorder. While traditional therapy modalities maintain popularity in most drug and alcohol rehabs, many modern facilities like Avenues Recovery employ a mix of both standard and holistic therapy approaches. Offering a unique, complementary approach to addiction treatment, equine therapy is constantly growing in popularity.

Continue reading to learn more about equine therapy and its impact on addiction therapy and mental health.  

What is Equine Therapy?

Equine therapy, otherwise known as horse therapy, is one of the leading forms of treatment for addiction and co-occurring disorders today. Patients interact with horses while a licensed therapist observes and monitors their behavior and emotional and mental state.

Horses need to be groomed, fed, and exercised. Individuals struggling with drug or alcohol addiction find the process of caring for a horse very therapeutic. Equine-assisted therapy eases mental, emotional, and physical symptoms often felt by clients. Combining drug rehab with horses improves social skills, communication skills, trust, and confidence.

The History of Equine Therapy

Where did horse therapy originate? Interestingly, the history of equine therapy dates back to ancient Greece. Records of horseback riding therapy appear in 600 B.C. Greek literature.  

Equine therapy began to gain attention in 1946 when therapeutic horseback riding successfully helped individuals in Scandinavia recover from poliomyelitis. In 1960, equine-assisted therapy was first documented in North America as a form of recreation for individuals with disabilities. The Community Association of Riding of the Disabled (CARD) in Toronto, Canada played a leading role in initiating this form of therapy with promising results.

Horses and other animals have been used for centuries to aid in emotional support. In today’s world, you can have a certified emotional support dog, which you can bring with you nearly everywhere you go. Equine therapy for addiction became a popular form of rehab therapy in recent years, and after seeing great success there is no sign of this form of therapy stopping anytime soon.

Harnessing Equine Therapy for Drug Addiction

Horses are extremely sensitive to changes in people, specifically their emotional and mental health. The horse reacts to a person’s feelings. If the person is calm and their mind is at peace, the horse will present a calm demeanor as well. During an equine-assisted therapy session, the therapist monitors both the patient and the horse. When the horse reacts, the therapist can gain an understanding of how the patient feels, even if they don’t outwardly present those emotions.  

This is the main reason why equine therapy for addiction treatment is so successful. Individuals in drug or alcohol recovery often hide how they truly feel. Addiction therapy is potentially the most vulnerable period in a person’s life. When someone feels vulnerable, they are less likely to express how they truly feel. They would rather leave treatment than express their genuine feelings and may come up with every excuse as to why they can’t continue treatment.  

Equine therapy gives clients a chance to escape their current state of mind. Even for a short time, the person feels as if they are elsewhere, and they are in a position to experience how peaceful life can be. One of the benefits of equine therapy is that the patient is more likely to let their guard down during a session compared to more traditional therapy modalities. The therapist can then better assess the patient’s state of being, allowing for a tailored therapeutic experience from which the patient is more likely to benefit. 

Equine Therapy's Role in Mental Health Treatment

As an occupational therapy, equine therapy addresses skills like posture, balance, and coordination. Horse therapy for mental health and addiction treatment aims to work on the following skills:


  • Effective communication  
  • Establishing boundaries
  • Improved attitude 
  • Healthy outlook 
  • Teamwork 
  • Responsibility  
  • Problem-solving
  • Emotional intelligence  

Equine therapy helps in the treatment of many different mental illnesses, including:  

Building Trust through Equine Therapy

Many people find that equine therapy relieves some – if not all – of their mental illness symptoms. They experience a sense of relief they cannot find elsewhere. The horses have a way of providing a sense of empowerment within the person as well. Horses might be sensitive to the human’s emotional and mental reactions, but humans can benefit from the horse just as much. Mutual respect and love are formed when the patient allows their walls to fall.  

That said, sometimes it is hard for some patients to allow their guard down. Much like humans, horses can be the same way. This is where trust comes into play. Once the human and horse build mutual trust, then the true benefits of equine-assisted therapy are seen.  

Is Equine Therapy Backed by Science?

Yes! Many studies have been published proving the benefits of equine therapy. A 2016 Sage Journals research article reports that a client participating in outdoor horse therapy feels a more positive sense of self, as opposed to feeling like just another patient in their regular treatment program. The abundance of studies continues to grow and it is nearly impossible to find a study that illustrates any negative outcomes related to this form of treatment. 

A comprehensive study from the National Library of Medicine reports some of the benefits of equine therapy, including:  

  • Improved balance 
  • Improved well-being 
  • Improved quality of life 
  • A gain in trust 
  • Improved self-efficacy  
  • Self-esteem 
  • Increased pleasure and positivity  
  • Sense of accomplishment 

There is a reason that horse therapy is one of the fastest-growing forms of holistic addiction therapy. Science agrees with this reason. Horses provide a real connection. For many clients, this is an entirely new feeling. The horse gives them a sense of hope to continue on their journey to recovery. Once they experience this in real life, they can apply it to human interaction. The world can hope to see more success stories as more scientific studies support the benefits of equine therapy.

The Benefits of Equine Therapy in Addiction Treatment

The benefits of working with horses in a therapeutic environment are endless. Our modern world is only now discovering how beneficial these magnificent creatures really are for addiction treatment. Humans are very connected to nature and animals. When we get back to our roots and allow ourselves to feel that connection, incredible inner healing occurs.

The main benefits patients usually experience are mentally based. In turn, they acquire a sense of self-esteem, and many establish determination and drive within themselves that they never felt before.  

Developing Character through Equine Therapy

Drug rehab centers with equine therapy witness clients growing in the following character traits:

  • Passion  
  • Positivity  
  • Realistic Outlook  
  • Resiliency  
  • Resourcefulness  
  • Drive 

Developing Character Through Equine Therapy (2)


Horses can communicate with humans non-verbally. Providing healing from the inside out tends to awaken the fire within a person once again. Impulse control is another major benefit that many patients experience. Impulse control is essential in reducing the risk of relapse after treatment for drug or alcohol addiction. The modern world is full of temptation and impulses and it is extremely easy to give in to those impulses. Self-awareness and self-confidence help with impulse-control development, which are hallmarks of equine therapy for addiction.


Many equine residential treatment centers require the patients to clean, maintain, and take care of the horses as well as ride them. Caring for the horse’s physical needs helps to build trust between the client and the horse,  teaching the client responsibility and giving them a feeling of accomplishment.    


There isn’t much that Horse Assisted Therapy can’t heal within a person. Once the mental and emotional areas are mastered, the person can take on anything. It is when the mind is weak and riddled with an illness that it becomes harder to see the clear picture and easier to fall for impulses.  


Equine Therapy at Avenues Recovery Center

Are you looking for an alcohol or drug rehab center with equine therapy? Avenues Recovery specializes in equine therapy for addiction treatment, in addition to multiple other therapy approaches. Our intelligent and caring therapists work with you every step of the way to ensure that you receive the treatment you need. Our equine therapy programs help clients gain a sense of emotional peace as they address any barriers to recovery in a safe and non-threatening environment. Animals provide a sense of connection and healing that is hard to find with anything else, especially when you already feel alone and at rock bottom. After you complete detox, the first step in addiction treatment, Avenues Recovery works with you through every stage of your journey to establish those key emotional and mental skills needed to succeed in a life of recovery.  

Call Avenues Recovery today for more information on equine therapy for addiction, or to enquire about any of our other successful rehab treatment programs. The road to recovery is just a step away.  

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