Horseback riding is a pleasurable recreational activity that also has health benefits. It may look like just sitting on top of a horse, but horseback riding is an exercise that requires the use of a number of muscles throughout the body. You build strength holding on to the reins and keeping your seat in the saddle. Riding can help you develop balance and coordination, especially when the horse is moving at a faster pace. Even flexibility is exercised getting on and off the horse.
Being around horses is a fun physical challenge, too. Taking care of a horse requires some hard work and discipline hauling feed and water, cleaning stables, and keeping tack in good repair. Horses are beautiful and loving creatures that show their appreciation for careful grooming and extra attention.
Benefits of Equine Therapy
Working with horses is often an effective means of therapy for people struggling with mental illness. They provide opportunities to get outdoors, be around animals and take responsibility. Horses can be good for your mental health in a number of ways:
Getting in Touch With Your Feelings
While people struggling with mental illness might seem overly emotional, most of them struggle to identify or process their feelings. The emotions get stuck inside of them and they do not know how to get around them to move forward with their lives.
Equine therapy is a great way to get in touch with emotions. Horses are very sensitive animals and will react to emotions even when you do not realize you are exhibiting them. When a horse senses aggression, he will become obstinate, for example. If the horse is not performing they way you want him to, it can he a clue that he is reacting to your emotions.
Using the horse’s reactions to identifying your emotions can be one of the first steps in understanding and dealing with them. A horse will respond more favorably to being approached by someone who is open. When you understand and clear your own emotions, the reward will be a positive response from the horse.
Improving Communication Skills
Horses are excellent communicators even though they do not speak. They can develop relationships with other animals and people by expressing their needs and feelings through non-verbal cues. You know from its behavior when a horse likes you and when he does not.
Recovering from mental illness usually requires improving communication skills. Mental illness forces people into isolation and their ability to communicate with others is not exercised. The first part of recovery can be spent reconnecting with yourself, but when you are ready, you need to learn how to build connections with others.
Riding a horse or just working with one in a barn gives you an opportunity to practice receiving messages, one of the more difficult parts of communication for many people. Since the horse cannot speak, you have to observe its behavior and mannerisms to figure out what it needs. This is good practice for improving communication skills with people.
Overcoming fear and building confidence are important parts of recovering from mental health issues. Problems such as addiction or depression leave people feeling hurt and vulnerable. Rebuilding self-confidence is one important element of regaining mental health and becoming resilient to future traumas.
Horses are big strong animals that incite fear in many people. Before getting to know their gentle nature, you might be concerned that the horse won’t like you or that you could get hurt riding it or working around it. Equine therapy involves safe situations in which to recognize your fears and confront them. When you realize how quickly you can overcome such fears, your confidence is increased to face other situations that make your fearful.
For many people suffering from mental illness, trust has been broken over and over again. Victims of trauma and abuse, whether at their own hand or someone else’s, can find it difficult to trust anyone. Sometimes one of the underlying issues is that they do not trust themselves and their own judgment.
Horses do not judge or manipulate. They are kind and straightforward creatures. Just being around a horse can help you begin to re-learn how to build trust.
Riding horses requires a deeper level of trust and the need increases as the riding skills become more developed. The horse has to trust that you will direct it carefully and not lead it into danger. You have to trust that the horse won’t try to throw you off or walk you into a tree.
Once you see that you can develop the needed trust in a horse to have a safe relationship, you will realize that trust can be built. Trusting an animal much bigger and stronger than yourself shows you that you can develop trust in another person, as well.
Being around horses has a number of benefits for mental health and emotional healing, and riding horses is a fun recreational activity that gets you outside in the fresh air.
Equine Therapy at Brookhaven Retreat
Under the guidance of a highly-trained equine therapist, Brookhaven Retreat offers equine-assisted psychotherapy as a treatment component option. Equine therapy is especially helpful in treating trauma, teaching essential life skills, and resolving internal conflict.