Harnessing Healing: The Role of Equine Therapy for Addiction

This article provides an introduction to equine therapy for addiction, a unique form of experiential therapy.

Understanding Equine Therapy

Equine therapy is a form of experiential therapy involving interactions between patients and horses. The term “experiential” means that it’s based on real, hands-on experiences.1

In equine therapy for addiction, people work with horses in various ways under the guidance of a trained therapist.

equine therapy for addiction

What is Typically Involved in Equine Therapy?

Equine therapy can include the following:

  • Grooming
  • Feeding
  • Walking with the horse
  • Riding

Fundamental Principles

The fundamental principle of equine therapy is the idea of “here and now.” It means the treatment focuses on what’s happening in the moment, not in the past or future.

It’s about the interaction between the person and the horse, right there and then. This approach helps people become more aware of their feelings and reactions and how they affect others.

Historical Background and Evolution of Equine Therapy

Equine therapy has a long history. Horses have been used as a therapeutic tool since ancient times. The Greeks, for example, recognized the therapeutic value of horse riding as far back as 600 B.C.

However, the formal use of equine therapy for addiction is more recent. It started to gain recognition in the 1990s when therapists began to notice the positive effects that horses had on people struggling with various issues, including addiction.2

Since then, the approach has been refined and developed. Now, it’s a recognized form of therapy used in many addiction treatment programs worldwide.

Types of Equine-Assisted Interventions

There are different ways to use equine therapy for addiction treatment. Here are two types of treatment.

Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy

In Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP), the therapy sessions are led by a mental health professional and an equine specialist. The goal is to use the experiences with the horse to encourage discussions about feelings and behavior patterns.

Equine-Assisted Learning

Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL) focuses more on teaching life skills. These can include:

  • Responsibility
  • Problem-solving
  • Teamwork

Both EAP and EAL can be used together in a comprehensive equine therapy for addiction program. It depends on the individual’s needs.

Equine Therapy for Addiction vs. Traditional Addiction Treatment Approaches

Equine therapy for addiction takes a different approach compared to more traditional methods of treatment. Here’s how they differ.

Traditional Approaches

Traditional approaches mainly focus on changing people’s behavior or how they think and feel about drugs or alcohol.

They often involve the following:

  • One-on-one counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Medication
  • Teaching coping strategies

Equine Therapy Approach

Equine therapy for addiction is more about learning through experiences. Instead of talking about feelings or thoughts, people express them through their interactions with the horse. They also learn new ways to deal with challenges and solve problems, which can help overcome addiction.

Unique Benefits of Equine Therapy for Addiction Treatment

Equine therapy for addiction brings some unique benefits. Here are a few of them:

  • Immediate Feedback: When interacting with a horse, any change in the person’s behavior or mood can result in a change in the horse’s behavior. This immediate response can help people understand and manage their emotions better.
  • Confidence and Self-Esteem: Equine therapy for addiction can be a powerful way to build confidence and self-esteem. Taking care of a horse and learning to control a creature much larger than oneself can give you a sense of achievement and control.
  • Physical Activity: Let’s not forget about the physical benefits. Taking care of a horse involves a good amount of physical activity, which can help reduce stress and improve mental and physical health.
  • Therapeutic Bonds: In equine therapy for addiction, the bond people often form with the horse can be therapeutic. Horses are non-judgmental and provide unconditional acceptance. This can be particularly valuable for people with addiction, who often struggle with feelings of guilt and shame.

How Equine Therapy for Addiction Supports Recovery

Equine therapy for addiction has several benefits. Some of them will be detailed below.

Developing Self-Awareness and Emotional Regulation

Working with horses in equine therapy for addiction can lead to a better understanding of oneself.

As a person observes the horse’s behavior and learns how to respond to it, they gain insight into their own behavior. People become more aware of their feelings. They learn more effective ways to manage them.

People also gain insight into how their behavior affects others. Horses are social animals that will respond to positive and negative behaviors. This can be a useful guide for understanding the impact of one’s behavior on other people.

Building Social Skills and Healthy Relationships

Equine therapy for addiction can help people develop healthy relationship skills. These skills include communication and trust.


Equine therapy can help build vital communication skills. These include:

  • Listening
  • Responding to feedback
  • Problem-solving

Equine therapy for addiction also offers the chance to learn non-verbal communication skills, which are invaluable in all types of relationships. Horses respond best to subtle movements and expressions rather than verbal commands.

Learning to read and respond to these cues can help people become more aware of body language and build better relationships with other people.


Building a relationship with a horse requires trust. The horse must trust and respect a person as a leader, while the person must learn to understand and respond to the horse’s needs. This experience can be a valuable metaphor for developing healthier relationships in other areas of life.

Enhancing Responsibility and Accountability

Caring for horses involves a lot of tasks, like feeding them and brushing their coats. These tasks can teach people about responsibility.

Therapy participants must do their tasks so the horse stays happy and healthy. This can also help them understand that actions have consequences and that we’re accountable for our own behaviors.

Promoting Mindfulness and Stress Reduction

Being with horses can help people focus on the present moment or be more mindful. For instance, when riding a horse, people must pay close attention to the horse and their surroundings. This can help them take their minds off their worries and stress.

The environment is also beneficial. Spending time in a calm and peaceful environment with horses can help reduce stress levels.3

Fostering Connection with Nature and Animals

Equine therapy for addiction often takes place outdoors. Being in nature and around animals can make people feel more peaceful and relaxed.

It’s a break from the busy and noisy world and a chance to connect with something pure and untouched. This can have a calming effect and make the recovery journey smoother.

How Equine Therapy for Addiction Addresses Multiple Aspects of Recovery

Recovery from substance use disorders can be complex. It can include psychological, emotional, and social aspects. Equine therapy for addiction can address many of the aspects of recovery.

Psychological Benefits of Equine Therapy

Equine therapy for addiction can bring about positive changes in the mental health of those in recovery. This can be as simple as feeling happier after spending time with a horse.

At the same time, it can also mean big changes, like being able to deal with difficult feelings. By working with horses, people can gain a better understanding of themselves, which can lead to improved mental health.

Emotional Healing and Resilience

Recovery from addiction often involves dealing with difficult emotions. This is where equine therapy for addiction can be helpful. Interacting with horses can give people a safe way to express feelings.

Over time, this can help people process their emotions in a healthier way. Moreover, horses do not judge, and this non-judgmental interaction can foster resilience and make a person stronger in the face of life’s challenges.

Social Interaction and Community Support

Equine therapy for addiction often takes place in group settings. Being around others participating in therapy can create a sense of community. This shared experience can make people feel like they are not alone in their journey.

Social interaction, like chatting while grooming a horse, can also provide a sense of normalcy and offer a supportive environment for recovery.

Healing Trauma through Equine Therapy for Addiction

For some people, addiction comes from trying to deal with traumatic experiences. Equine therapy for addiction can help with this. When working with horses, the person may feel safe enough to address and process the trauma that has caused a lot of pain.

The experience of connecting with a horse can be calming and cathartic. This often helps create an emotional breakthrough, which is essential for recovery.

Research and Studies on the Effectiveness of Equine Therapy for Addiction

People looking into equine therapy for addiction may wonder if it’s supported by research. Considering treatments backed by research is important because they may work better.

Research into the role of equine therapy for addiction is an exciting field. The field is filled with studies that aim to understand how and why this treatment method might help people overcome addiction.

Types of Studies

Most equine therapy for addiction studies use observational and case-study methods to gather data. They record observations of people undergoing equine therapy, looking for changes in their behavior, feelings, or thoughts that might point to a reduction in addiction symptoms.

Key Findings and Insights

The key findings from research on equine therapy for addiction show some promising results. Some of them include:

  • Less Drawn to Addiction: Firstly, a study found that participants who underwent equine therapy reported feeling less drawn to their addiction. Participants often spoke of feeling a sense of calm and connection when working with the horses. This seemed to help them resist the urge to engage in addictive behavior.4
  • Confidence and Motivation: There were indications that equine therapy could help improve confidence and motivation. Participants also reported feeling more comfortable with themselves and their emotions, which could point to a greater sense of emotional regulation.5
  • Easing Stress for People with Psychotic Symptoms: Finally, research suggests that equine therapy may be especially beneficial for people who have psychotic symptoms. People who underwent equine therapy reported feeling less anxious and stressed.6

Incorporating Equine Therapy into a Comprehensive Addiction Treatment Program

Bringing equine therapy for addiction into a treatment plan needs thought and planning. Here are some integration strategies and considerations for success.

Find Trained Professionals

First, it’s key to find trained professionals. They should know how to provide equine therapy for addiction.

They should understand both the nature of addiction and the special ways that horses can help people heal. Also, it’s best to use equine therapy along with other forms of help, like counseling or support groups.

Assess Individual Suitability for Equine Therapy for Addiction

Only some people will be a good fit for equine therapy for addiction. Some things to consider include:

  • Individuals’ comfort level with animals
  • Any fears they might have about horses
  • Individuals’ physical ability to interact with a large animal

It’s also important to think about personal interest in the treatment. Consider any moral or religious objections the person might have to equine therapy for addiction.

Collaborate with a Multidisciplinary Team

To make the most of equine therapy for addiction, it helps to have a team approach. This means having different professionals, like doctors, therapists, and horse specialists, work together.

They can share information and ideas, leading to better care for the person in treatment. It’s like putting together a puzzle – each piece adds to the whole picture and helps create a clearer understanding of what’s going on.

equine therapy for addiction

Choice House: A Leader in Equine Therapy for Addiction

Choice House is a place where men go to heal from addictions. It’s located in Boulder County, Colorado, a beautiful place where mountains meet city life.

What makes the Choice House team stand out is their belief in the power of community. They see themselves not just as a treatment center but as a family of “brothers” journeying together toward a healthier, more meaningful life.

They believe the connection between people can be a great source of strength and healing. This is crucial for the recovery process.

Overview of Our Equine Therapy for Addiction

One of the special things about Choice House is its equine therapy for addiction. This program lets people spend time with horses as part of their treatment. Working with horses can provide a unique and meaningful way for people to heal from addiction.

Choice House offers a variety of equine therapy programs, such as group sessions with horses, individual sessions with horses, and horse-assisted cognitive therapy. They also provide education on horse care, how to read equine body language, and how to safely handle horses.

Each program is tailored to the individual’s needs and progress in recovery. The goal is for people to not only learn about their addiction but also gain confidence and self-esteem through their interactions with horses.

Commitment to Holistic Recovery

Choice House is not just about treating the addiction; it’s about treating the whole person. This means they pay attention to all aspects of a person’s life – physical health, mental well-being, emotional balance, and even spiritual growth.

Equine therapy is only one of their features. They also offer comprehensive individual and group counseling, nutritional guidance, wellness classes, recreational activities, and more.

The goal is to help people become the best version of themselves. They believe that if you can heal yourself from addiction in every aspect of your life, you will be more likely to stay on track and maintain your sobriety for years.

Contact Us

If you’re ready to join the community at Choice House, contact us today. We’ll help you reclaim your healthy, rewarding, and limitless life.

ready to choose a life worth living?

Don’t let addiction or co-occurring mental health conditions keep you from leading the happy, healthy, and empowered life you deserve. Contact Choice House today and embrace recovery.

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