If you’re a veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder (SUD), or anxiety you may have heard of equine therapy as a potential treatment option. This type of therapy involves working with horses to promote emotional and mental healing. Equine-assisted therapy has become increasingly popular in recent years, particularly for individuals with PTSD, and for good reason.
One study found that after participating in an equine therapy program, veterans experienced significant reductions in PTSD symptoms, depression, and anxiety. Another study found that equine therapy helped veterans improve their interpersonal relationships, communication skills, and self-esteem. With its positive outcomes and growing popularity, equine therapy is becoming a more widely recognized and utilized form of treatment for veterans.
Equine Therapy for Military Veterans
Military vets often return home carrying the weight of traumatic experiences making it difficult to adjust to civilian life. As a result, many struggle with substance misuse or mental health disorders. Traditional therapeutic modalities like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have been staples in Treatment, however, equine-assisted services offers a real-world experience with distinct healing advantages for those returning home from active duty. This particular form of therapy involves working with horses to help manage symptoms and improve mental health.
What Is Equine Therapy?
Equine therapy, also known as horse therapy, is a form of therapy that involves interaction with horses to promote physical, emotional, and mental well-being. This type of therapy has been found to be particularly effective for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other service-related health conditions.
In equine-assisted psychotherapy, veterans work alongside a therapist, equine specialist and horse in tailored sessions. These sessions can involve various equine-assisted activities, from grooming to therapeutic riding, all designed to establish trust, emotional awareness, and problem-solving skills. As a responsive being, horses help mirror the emotions of the client, providing immediate feedback that can be used in therapeutic contexts.
Activities such as these are designed to help develop a sense of trust, confidence, and connection with the horse; skills which can then be transferred to relationships with family members and other people.
Benefits of Equine Therapy for Vets
One of the key benefits of equine therapy is that it provides a safe and non-judgmental environment for veterans to explore their emotions and work through their trauma. Horses are highly intuitive and can sense when someone is anxious, stressed, or upset. This allows them to respond in a way that is calming and soothing, helping veterans to feel more relaxed and at ease.
Equine therapy can also help veterans to develop important life skills, such as communication, problem-solving, and leadership. Working with a horse requires clear communication and the ability to read and interpret nonverbal cues, which can then be applied to other areas of life.
This form of therapy has been shown to provide a range of benefits for veterans with mental health concerns.
Some of these benefits include:
- Reduced symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression
- Improved self-esteem and self-confidence
- Increased feelings of connection and social support
- Improved communication skills
- Reduced feelings of isolation and loneliness
Equine therapy can also be a fun and enjoyable way to get outside and engage with nature. Many veterans find that spending time with horses can be calming and therapeutic, helping them to feel more relaxed and at ease.
If you are a veteran struggling with mental health concerns, equine therapy may be a worthwhile treatment option to explore. Talk to your healthcare provider or mental health professional to learn more about this form of therapy and whether it may be right for you.
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Equine Therapy Effectiveness for Vets
There is a need for more research to be conducted in the field of equine therapy for veterans. Future studies can focus on the long-term effects of equine therapy, the optimal duration of treatment, and the effectiveness of equine therapy in treating co-occurring conditions, such as depression and anxiety. But below are a few case studies and examples of its effectiveness for vets:
- A study published in the Journal of Military and Veterans’ Health reported on the successful treatment of a veteran with PTSD using equine therapy. The veteran had been experiencing symptoms of PTSD for over a year and had not responded to traditional forms of therapy. After participating in equine therapy for six weeks, the veteran reported a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms and an improvement in overall quality of life.
- Another study published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development reported on the successful treatment of a veteran with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) using equine therapy. The veteran had been experiencing difficulty with balance and coordination, as well as anxiety and depression. After participating in equine therapy for 12 weeks, the veteran showed significant improvement in balance and coordination, as well as a reduction in anxiety and depression symptoms.
- A case study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reported on the successful treatment of a veteran with PTSD and chronic pain using equine therapy. The veteran had been experiencing chronic pain for several years and had not responded to traditional forms of pain management. After participating in equine therapy for 10 weeks, the veteran reported a significant reduction in pain symptoms and an improvement in overall quality of life.
These case studies provide evidence of the effectiveness of equine therapy as a treatment option for veterans with service-related health conditions. While not all veterans may respond to equine therapy, it is a promising alternative to traditional forms of therapy and should be considered as a viable option for those struggling with PTSD, TBI, chronic pain, and other service-related health conditions.
Relapse Prevention and Other Treatments for Vets
While equine therapy offers significant benefits, it’s often most effective when combined with other treatments. Comprehensive recovery programs integrate therapies like CBT, group therapy, and more to holistically address substance use disorders. Together, these therapies create a robust relapse prevention plan, ensuring veterans have the tools they need for lasting recover
Veterans and Mental Health
As a veteran, you may have experienced traumatic events during your service that have impacted your mental health. According to research, veterans are at a higher risk of developing mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.
It’s essential to seek professional help if you’re experiencing symptoms of mental health conditions, such as flashbacks, nightmares, social isolation, and difficulty sleeping. Untreated mental health conditions can lead to substance abuse, relationship problems, and even suicide.
However, veterans often avoid seeking mental health treatment due to the stigma attached to mental health issues and concerns about confidentiality. Equine therapy can be an effective alternative or complementary treatment for veterans experiencing mental health issues.
Equine therapy is a form of therapy that involves interactions between horses and humans. It can help veterans improve their mental health by providing a non-judgmental and supportive environment. Equine therapy can help veterans build trust, improve communication skills, and develop coping mechanisms to manage their symptoms.
Research has shown that equine therapy can be effective in treating mental health conditions in veterans. For example, a study published in the Journal of Social Work in 2016 found that equine therapy reduced symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety in veterans. Another study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research in 2018 found that equine therapy improved sleep quality in veterans with PTSD.
Equine therapy can be a valuable addition to traditional mental health treatments such as medication and counseling. It’s essential to find a licensed and experienced equine therapist to ensure that you receive the best possible care.
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At Riverside Recovery, we’re dedicated to offering the best combination of therapeutic options tailored for veterans. Learn more about the transformative power of equine therapy alongside our holistic treatment modalities from our experienced team.
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Burton, L. E., Qeadan, F., & Burge, M. R. (2019). Efficacy of equine-assisted psychotherapy in veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of integrative medicine, 17(1), 14–19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joim.2018.11.001
Kehoe, J. E., & Watt, T. (YEAR). Adjunct Activites for Mental Health Improvements for Veterans. Journal of Military and Veterans’ Health, 28(2). https://jmvh.org/article/adjunct-activities-for-mental-health-improvements-for-veterans/
Kucera, J (2022). Taking the reins through equine-assisted therapy. US Department of Veterans Affairs. https://www.va.gov/houston-health-care/stories/taking-the-reins-through-equine-assisted-therapy/
Lanning, B. A., & Krenek, N (2013). Examining effects of equine-assisted activities to help combat veterans improve quality of life. Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development (JRRD), 50(8), vii – xiii. https://www.rehab.research.va.gov/jour/2013/508/pdf/jrrd-2013-07-0159.pdf
Nelson, C., Dossett, K., & Walker, D. L. (2022). Equine-Assisted Therapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Among First Responders. Psychological Reports, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/00332941221146707