An Integrated Addiction Model supports a multi-faceted approach to treating drug dependence. It encourages therapists to assist those struggling with a substance abuse disorder to overcome the psychological addiction. It also facilitates the treatment of mental health disorders that a dual diagnosis may reveal. One treatment option is equine therapy.

What is Equine Therapy and Who Benefits from its Use?

Young woman petting a horse during equine therapy for addiction treatment.

Equestrian therapy places a person in a working relationship with one or more horses. It does not lead to the development of horsemanship skills. In fact, some individuals may never ride the animals. They may prefer to contribute to the physical care and wellness of the horses instead.

Therapists across the spectrum appreciate the adoption of this program into the mainstream. It is a valuable treatment alternative for a variety of mental health and recovery settings. Although it looks like the person is doing all the work, the horses themselves actively contribute to the therapeutic aspects.

Working with Horses

  • Calming influences. The animals that become part of equine therapy programs display calm, soothing demeanors. They are not skittish and do not shy away from human interaction. At the same time, they provide intuitive feedback to someone caring for them.
  • Opportunity for introspection. A person who participates in group therapy sessions and individual counseling has a lot to think about. You must process feelings that you buried for a long time. Caring for a horse quickly becomes a habit that may not require constant attention to the task. It makes it a perfect time to think.
  • Personal productivity. Being productive is a sign of therapy success. Contributing to society is one of the goals that treatment programs for a variety of conditions share. Performing a task that benefits someone (or something) else is instrumental for those who have not done so for a while. It has the potential to transfer the experience and commitment to work or family-related activities.

Equestrian therapy benefits a broad range of individuals regardless of background, ethnicity, belief system, or gender. This program is already actively in use to help veterans experiencing difficulties adjusting to civilian life. In this way, the useful aspects of the therapy transcend a broad range of mental health needs. And because an integrated addiction model focuses on trauma as a root for substance abuse, this modality is ideally suited.

How Does Working with Horses Benefit Someone Struggling with Addiction?

One characteristic of a person in addiction counseling is the belief that s/he is unlovable and not trustworthy. There is a fear of judgment that can sometimes cloud an individual’s ability to break through the cocoon of self-isolation. Equine therapy can be the modality that helps with overcoming this type of negative self-talk. After all, the animal has no memory of the person and therefore approaches her or him with basic trust.

For many, this expression of confidence may be the first such interaction in a long time. Another reason for incorporating equestrian therapy into a drug addiction treatment protocol is the cause and effect reaction. Someone struggling with substance abuse has most likely left a lot of destruction behind. Broken marriages strained relationships with children, and estrangement from extended family members are common.

Caring for horses gives a person in recovery the reality check of reconnecting the cause and effect within a relationship. Frequently, those who’ve had a difficult time understanding the damage they caused find a breakthrough in this therapy. Incorporating horse therapy during the discussion of 12-Step principles can, therefore, be a significant factor in someone’s overall recovery.

Lessons Learned in Equine Therapy

But there are other life lessons the treatment provides.

  • Living on a schedule. Overcoming an addiction and returning to a job and family requires adherence to a schedule. Scheduling repeatedly requires you to put others before your wants and needs. This thought process is in direct opposition to the drug-fueled lifestyle that puts a substance at the center of existence. Because horse care can be enjoyable, it’s a good way of re-introducing the art and science of scheduling.
  • Meeting obligations. The horse relies on your presence for food and exercise. If you don’t show up, you miss the opportunity to contribute to the animal’s well being. Over time, the act of meeting an obligation becomes second nature again. The commitment to the animal teaches you a number of forgotten lessons.
  • Personal consistency. Living in the addiction cycle results in a life of uncertainty. Horse therapy can be a significant contributor to developing consistency on a personal level. You develop routines, you keep appointments, and you contribute to a cause. When you expand on what you learned during your time with the horses, you are learning relapse prevention.

Is There Actual Science to Support the Use of Equestrian Therapy?

Equine therapy is an offshoot of animal-assisted psychotherapy. As noted in the Journal of Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health, a study proved that patients with mental health conditions benefited from the treatment. Coping skills, in particular, showed a remarkable improvement. Another area of progress involved the self-confidence to perform a set of given tasks.

It is a sad reality that the vicious cycle of substance abuse and dependence robs you of self-confidence. By eroding simple life lessons such as personal integrity, consistency, and commitment to obligations, your self-esteem plunges. As a result, your self-efficacy takes a further hit. Counteracting this form of negative self-talk is possible with the right set of therapies.

The medical community understands drug addiction or alcohol dependence to be a mental health disorder. Because of this classification, pioneering treatment providers introduced horse therapy to those in rehab facilities. Over time, this protocol element proved to work well for people struggling with addiction and those with a dual diagnosis.

Mental Health Adjustment During Equestrian Therapy

  • Growth opportunity. Unless you’ve lived on a farm, you may not be comfortable around larger horses. By leaving your comfort zone and interacting with these animals, you experience personal growth. You learn that trying something new can be a rewarding experience. You also rediscover your courage, which builds self-esteem.
  • Immediate reactions. The animals react to your attitudes and repressed feelings. If you’re nervous or anxious, the animals mirror the behavior. You don’t have to try to figure out how you’re doing. Just see how the horses react to you and note their responses.
  • Attitude adjustments. Because of the immediate feedback, you can choose to adjust your approach. As the horse reacts, you continue your adjustments as needed. The process helps you get back in the habit of reading social cues, processing the feedback, and responding to it. This creates another interaction with possible life lesson applications for the person in recovery.

Of course, working with the large animals by itself is insufficient to result in a lasting recovery. You also need the intervention of trained therapists who assist you with a variety of individualized treatments. Examples could include residential treatment, dual diagnosis approaches, and a family program. Other options may be the availability of Yoga sessions, experiential group therapy in the form of psychodrama, and art therapy.

Experience the Benefits of an Integrated Addiction Model that Offers Science-based Treatment Options

Almost all drug treatment programs start with a detoxification phase. This brief period allows your body to withdraw from the drug and break its physical dependence. From there, you graduate to the rehab stage. It lasts longer and incorporates multiple treatment opportunities like equine therapy.

The goal is to help you discover the root of your addiction problem. By uncovering possible trauma and dealing with it, you break the psychological dependence on a drug as well. In the process, you approach healing in a variety of ways. Because the same therapy approach does not work for everyone, mental health professionals offer you the chance to try multiple programs.

Each one helps you uncover a little more of the puzzle. Moreover, each program you try out can help you achieve the psychological breakthrough you want to make. Participating in equine therapy is one alternative. Since studies prove that it is a potentially highly useful tool, it makes sense to add it to your treatment plan.

Learn more about the benefits of working with horses during recovery. If you’re struggling with an addiction today, experience the therapy’s positive effects firsthand. Today’s the right day to stop using and start living. Call the addiction experts at the Healing Springs Ranch by dialing 866-656-8384.