Hillview Manor Rehabilitation Does Equine Therapy

Hillview Manor has recently acquired 5 horses to do equine therapy with the patients to enhance their mental health and strengthen their road to recovery.

What is Equine Therapy?

Equine Therapy at Hillview Manor
Equine Therapy at Hillview Manor

Equine therapy are activities done with the involvement of horses that promote emotional and mental growth in patients. This type of therapy will help the patients to build their self-confidence and increase their ability to deal with any emotional issues or problems. It is easy for animals such as horses to build a strong emotional connection with humans that in turn strengthens the human’s ability to accomplish goals and be more motivated within their treatments. Using equine therapy has been strongly advised by many medical practitioners in order to help patients within their recovery as it has shown many promising results.

How does Hillview Manor Rehabilitation Centre Implement Equine Therapy?

Equine Therapy at Hillview Manor
Equine Therapy at Hillview Manor

Hillview manor have grown their family by getting 5 new horses which the patients interact with on a daily basis. These interactions include learning 5 main lessons which are:

Equine Therapy Lesson #1: Identifying and Coping with Feelings

Many people struggling with addictions, trauma and other mental health issues don’t know how to cope with their feelings. They may use drugs in an attempt to numb sadness, anger, fear or even joy. For therapy to be successful, one of the first steps is learning to identify, experience and cope with their emotions. Equine therapy is a powerful way to get in touch with thoughts and feelings. During equine therapy, you do not use your mind to address problems. For the addict, relying on your mind, often leads to denial, blaming others or intellectualizing your way around the problem. Instead, you must use your body and heart to feel and react in the moment. Horses have a unique ability to sense emotions and react accordingly. If you are angry or aggressive, the horse may become obstinate. If you are anxious, the horse may get skittish. But when approached by someone who is open and calm, the horse is more likely to respond in kind. Witnessing the horse’s response promotes self-awareness and can help people see themselves in a more realistic way.

Equine Therapy Lesson #2: Communication & Interpersonal Skills

Many people with addictions and mental health issues are emotionally underdeveloped. They may have difficulty relating or getting close to other people. Yet they manage to establish close bonds with horses. Through working with horses, people recognize their patterns of interacting with others. Horses do not speak, but they are excellent communicators. Learning to understand horse behaviour can help people learn the way their behaviour impacts others. “As a sophisticated herd animal, horses immediately begin building relationships with people as members of their herd,” Beasley says. “People then get to decide whether they will hold fast to their old ways of interacting or take this unique opportunity to develop a new kind of relationship.” While riding can be part of equine therapy, the most important work happens during the interactions between client and horse, she says. Exercises as simple as haltering, leading and grooming teach people how to approach others with respect and awareness. In equine therapy, people talk about what they see and feel. The therapist guides the person to see the horse’s responses with an objective lens. Thus, they begin to recognize the ways in which their perceptions are accurate or misguided. They also discover the ways they may be projecting their own issues onto others.

Equine Therapy Lesson #3: Setting Boundaries

Working with a horse can expose a person’s maladaptive thought and behaviour patterns. In an equine therapy session, Beasley draws metaphors between the client’s interaction with the horse and the patterns in their own lives. She finds opportunity to address issues like enmeshment and detachment in their family. Lessons may be as simple as how much physical space the horse needs to feel comfortable. Without any words at all, horses make clear when someone has crossed their boundaries. Trying to control or dominate will not work with a horse. Likewise, a detached or passive approach can make it difficult to lead a horse.

Equine Therapy Lesson #4: Overcoming Fears

Horses are large animals. Their strength and size can bring up unmet needs, fears, past trauma and feelings of inadequacy or lack of control. Beasley says many people fear that the horse won’t like them. They also fear the horse could hurt them or emotionally. Rather than giving in to their usual reaction – to escape or get defensive – people learn to tolerate and process the emotion. “When I do equine work, I feel like I’m witnessing grace. In the barn with those horses, everything is just as it should be,” says Beasley. “These special animals allow people to bring all kinds of issues into the horse’s world and accept them as they are – imperfections and all.” In a safe environment, clients learn to face their fears. They build confidence in their ability to overcome challenges. Many people feel intimidated and nervous at first. Later they discover how quickly they process those feelings and find comfort in their relationship with the horse. Empowered by the experience, people may develop the confidence to address other fears. They then transfer these lessons to day-to-day life. “Clients at The Ranch don’t have to love horses or have experience working with animals in order to benefit from equine therapy,” says Beasley. “They simply have to be willing to give treatment a chance and move in a different direction than they have in the past.”

Equine Therapy Lesson #5: Trust

Horses are soothing, gentle animals. They are straightforward in their interactions without lying or manipulating. They do not judge or blame. Their presence alone can be healing. Beasley recalls one client who suffered brutal childhood abuse in her family. Rather than designing a directed equine therapy session, she allowed the client to sit in the pasture with the horse. After an hour or so, the client, visibly moved, said, “I’ve never had anybody so big be nice to me before.” This experience, Beasley says, created an “alternative memory” for the client. Past memories taught her that anyone bigger or more powerful than her would mistreat her. Now she had a first-hand experience that showed her she could trust again. When people open themselves up, they grow in their ability to build relationships and to ask for help. After counselling clients for 30 years, 15 of which have included equine therapy, Beasley says she still learns something new every day. “I get back tenfold what I put in just by watching someone have a softening of the heart or a moment that creates a new kind of wonderful body memory.”

Equine Therapy at Hillview Manor
Equine Therapy at Hillview Manor

Application of Equine Therapy:

Equine therapy can involve more than just riding the horse. In some sessions, a client might not even touch the horse at all. Often the therapist leading the session will set goals for the client to complete, such as leading the horse to a designated area or putting a halter on the horse. The client will complete the task to the best of their ability and then discuss the thought process, ideas and problem solving used to complete the task. Discussing what the client is doing at a given time allows them to improve language skills. Listening to the instructor helps improve the individual’s ability to listen and follow directions, ask questions, etc. Not only is there communication between the handler and the instructor, but also between the handler and the horse.  This skill becomes especially helpful for those who are struggling with anxiety as often times they are stuck in worry about the past, or catastrophic thinking about the future.  This activity encourages a person to be present and focused on the task at hand.

Therapists who teach Equine-Assisted Therapies can easily adapt Cognitive Therapy as well as play and talk therapy. Depending on the nature of the anxiety and its severity, the Equine therapist is able to make decisions about the processes or techniques applied in the sessions. Main techniques used are Cognitive Therapy, practicing activities, activity scheduling, play therapy and storytelling and talk therapy.

What are the benefits of doing Equine Therapy in addiction treatment?

Since substance addiction is classified as a mental health disorder, and since many people who struggle with addictions also suffer from another mental issue, this study suggests that Animal-Assisted Therapy such as Equine therapy can be useful to people undergoing addiction treatment.

The benefits of this type of therapy on addiction patients are that when interacting with the horses, patients gain a sense of safety and security, increases opportunities for trust, increases their ability to build healthy relationships and allows them to become more open and vulnerable which will help the patient connect and communicate with their counsellors and support systems easier and in turn making the process of therapy easier.

For any further questions on our use of equine therapy to help our patients during their rehabilitation process, contact martin@hillviewmanorrehab.co.za or give us a call or click to our contact page and leave your details there and someone will be in contact with you shortly.

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