Equine facilitated mental health is the fastest, internationally growing mental health field. This form of therapy involves horses in a therapeutic setting and helps clients gain self-confidence, learn communication, and process their emotions from past trauma. Three organizations weigh in on how equine therapy heals not only patients, but the horses who rise to the occasion to provide individuals of all ages with life-changing experiences.
Dr. Susan Edwards, Psychologist and Director of Team Velvet, an equine therapy center that helps children (typically ages 5-12) heal from trauma, explains how horses are the perfect animal when it comes to dealing with emotions. She says, “Trauma is an intense emotion and horses read emotion well. The presence of horses within a counseling model offers a chance to reweave pain into understanding, empathy and compassion for self and others.” The program at Team Velvet includes three components: a learning [cognitive therapy], interactional [fun and social intelligence learning], and psychological modeling [from a peer mentor or therapy horse partner] blended with bibliotherapy, where patients write their own healing stories.
According to Susan Guinan, CEO of Vinceremos Riding Center, patients benefit from working with horses because they are allowed to focus on how the horse feels; the conversation is less invasive than talk therapy which is mainly directed at and about the individual. The patients use the horse as a medium to work out their own feelings. Vinceremos sees a broad range of clients—everyone from veterans to children of various ages who have suffered extreme trauma.
The patients, however, are not the only ones who benefit from equine therapy. Ms. Guinan says that her horses come from various backgrounds and disciplines: show jumping, dressage, pony club, ranch work. Due to their amazing adaptability, horses tend to do very well in the therapeutic setting while adjusting to their new jobs. Marylou Tortorello, Founder and Executive Director of 13 Hands Equine Rescue, explains how her center helps not only veterans and their families, but horses who were bound for slaughter. The horses are now able to play an important role by helping veterans with PTSD, anxiety and depression.
Equine therapy requires psychologists to develop specific treatment goals for patients so that they can heal from past trauma and current disabilities. But the magic comes from the horses themselves— as the horses provide profound spiritual and emotional connection, patients of all ages are able to restart their lives and heal, one equine experience at a time.
How can you get involved?
These three centers depend on the support of the community. Both volunteering and financial donations help the centers provide the best services they can for their patients. Telling others about their programs help spread the word and stress the importance of equine therapy as an investment in the future and potential of those with disabilities. Lastly, providing your horses to therapeutic centers so they may be used in equine therapy gives them a whole new life and a second career.
- Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center:
13300 6th Court N, Loxahatchee, FL 33470 | 561.792.9900
- 13 Hands Equine Rescue:
50 Tuscan Way, Clinton Corners, New York 12514 | 914.325.4941
- Team Velvet, Inc. Equine Facilitated Mental Health Services for Children:
PO Box 268, Rocky Hill, NJ 08553 | 609.924.4330
—by Lauren Teneriello
Read the rest of the Douglas Elliman Equestrian 2021 magazine here.