equine therapy addiction

Equine Therapy and Addiction Treatment

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

What Happens in Equine Therapy?

Equine Therapy is commonly referred to as horse therapy, is a unique approach to helping drug addicts and alcoholics cope and recover. Equine Therapy is a form of therapy that allows struggling addicts and alcoholics have contact with horses. The animals provide a great unique way for struggling addicts and alcoholics to open up and experience new things.  Equine therapists will use these sessions to help teach the clients lessons on how the horses react to different situations and try to incorporate that into the client’s life.

Many programs do not include riding, but are instead the client is focused on bonding with the horse through taking care of its basic needs. These equine therapy interactions between patients and horses typically involve feeding, petting, and grooming.

Of course all of these interactions are supervised by a professional horse handler, to help guarantee the safety of the client as well as a mental health professional. While the activity is taking place and after the equine therapy session has been completed, the therapist can interact with the patient and observe their actions and behaviors. This allows the therapist to evaluate their behavior changes and help treat the client correctly.

The main goal of equine therapy is to allow the patient to develop needed skills and attributes that can be applied into daily life. These new skills and traits include things like self-confidence, accountability, self-control, responsibility, problem-solving skills, and self-control.

Equine therapy also offers a nice change in atmosphere for what is typically found in a rehab setting. Equine therapy is the discipline of using horses as a way to provide positive experiences in order to encourage mental and emotional growth in the client.

What Are the Benefits?

There have been multiple studies done on the various benefits of equine therapy. When equine therapy is used properly and is being taught by a licensed therapist there are many positive things that can be learned and taken from an equine therapy session.

Stress Relief
The ability to decrease stress levels in clients is one of the most impressive benefits. Equine therapy has been proven to help decrease stress levels in those who completed sessions with a trained and licensed therapist. Giving clients benefits that are comparable to forms of meditation.

Self Control
Clients may also experience better impulse control, by learning how to control themselves from making impulsive decisions the chances of them relapsing are going to greatly decrease.

During equine therapy sessions the client will have to show a certain level of dominance and assertiveness over the horse.

They can take these skills and apply them in their daily life, by becoming more assertive they will get a higher level of self-confidence.

When the client takes control of the horse, the horse is giving their trust to the client. This mutual respect will help build trust levels in the client and can benefit them far beyond the equine therapy session. Other benefits include:

  • Decreased Levels of  Isolation
  • Self-Acceptance
  • Social Skills
  • Setting Healthy and Safe Boundaries
  • Self-Efficacy
  • Self-Concept
  • Communication Skills
  • Perspective
  • Higher levels of spirituality


The benefits of equine therapy are attributed to nature of the horses. When the client and the horse are interacting and guided by the therapist, the horse will be calm and easy to work with. Horses do not have any preconceived expectations. They are not judgmental, and they don’t expect anything in particular from the client.

Equine therapy has been active in one way or another for hundreds of years. Greek literature refers to horseback riding as therapeutic and was often used to help those suffering. It wasn’t until 1960 that equine therapy was introduced to the United States and Canada. Since then there has been a steady increase in fields where equine therapy is used.

Since the introduction of equine therapy into the field it has been used to help with a variety of different mental health issues and diseases. Equine therapy has used successfully in various types of treatment programs. These programs are for both the young and the old—adults, teens, and the elderly can all benefit from equine therapy. Horse therapy has shown benefits for such a wide range of behaviors such as compulsive gambling, eating disorders, sex addiction, and of course treatment of people struggling with drug addiction and alcoholism.

As well, individuals who have depression, bipolar, learning differences, ADD/ADHD, autism, Asperger’s, grief/loss, trauma have all found certain amounts of healing through interaction with horses in a therapeutic context.

Interested in Equine Therapy?

Here is more information on the horse therapy available at First Steps Recovery. If you or a loved one are looking for a solution to addiction that involves diverse therapy options, please call us today: 1-844-489-0836.


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