Research tells us that being in contact with animals can help alleviate anxiety. Horses can be useful because they are seen as strong and powerful. For an individual to be able to be with a horse can be like exposure therapy to their anxieties and provide confidence.
One of the main signs we see with individuals with depression can be a lack of enjoyment or interest in doing things. When you put an individual with a horse, changes occur physiologically and the individual's brain will be given a 'wake up'. Horses, responding as they do to someone who is depressed and not showing interest, may start to nudge or whinny. This contact and attention awakens the individual to respond which is progress.
Many people with PTSD, such as veterans, tend to be wary of their surroundings and are often anxious. Horses can be as well because they are prey animals and as such, are wary of their surroundings as a form of survival. However, the veteran and the horse can come together for a mutual bonding of trust and put aside their anxieties. Horses, as noted, read body language and individuals learn to be more mindful of their body language and how they may need to adjust to have the horses do what they have asked them to do.
Many individuals with mental health and addiction issues struggle with self confidence and self-esteem. These issues can become more apparent when they start the road to recovery. When working with a horse, whether brushing, leading, or having the horse do what you ask, self-esteem and confidence naturally begin to increase.
Many individuals with mental health and addiction issues have trust issues. Many have been hurt by something or someone in their lives. The horse can provide the individual a safe start to trusting them, which in turn can perhaps help them start trusting humans again in their lives. Equine therapy can also help the person who may be uncomfortable in the traditional office setting to open up more and build rapport more quickly, and build trust.
People who have suffered abuse in their lives at the hands of others can see the horse as being powerful. When they get to a point in their treatment where they can lead a horse, or have the horse do what they want, they can begin to regain their confidence. When we look at individuals who have experienced physical, verbal, or emotional trauma there can be work with the horses that can teach lessons about boundaries, and how setting the boundaries with the horses can be related to their own lives.
Individuals with addiction issues can feel they are judged but working with horses can provide them with a non-judgmental experience. Horses rely on assessing our body language. Sometimes individuals with addiction issues do not always want to be truthful, or tend to keep their thoughts hidden away. When working with horses, it can be difficult not to be honest. Spending time with horses can be in and of itself a leisure activity for individuals with addictions, and in some cases, may be a healthier form of a 'high' for clients.