Sure, as a form of exercise, horseback riding is great. And, it’s fun. But, does horseback riding in addiction recovery work? The evidence shows that horseback riding provides special benefits for addiction recovery. More generally, therapeutic horseback riding can aid emotional wellness in general, relieving common symptoms of anxiety and depression. (See Solomon, A., The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. Scribner New York: 2001.)
The special interaction between horse and rider creates a whole dimension beyond the benefits of ordinary physical exercise. Horseback riding uniquely combines exercise, meaningful communication, and a special sort of nonverbal social interaction. When you communicate with your horse, you go beyond language. Instead, you communicate with your horse through posture and movement.
Instead of using words, you communicate directly through physical contact. As you gain riding skills, you begin to interact with your horse on an unconscious level. This simple, even primitive style of communication, puts your human cognitive unconscious into meaningful engagement with the horse. This interaction affirms the ability of your cognitive unconscious to communicate with others. The therapeutic benefit is developing confidence and interest in the cognitive unconscious of individuals.
Academic research in equine-assisted psychotherapy at Retorno
New research (2016) conducted by Reut Ella, Clinical Criminologist specializing in addictions, under the supervision of Prof. Natti Ronel, Bar-Ilan University, examines the impact of Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy combined with the Twelve-step Program for recovering adolescents in a therapeutic community. Here is an excerpt from the research:
“The main purpose of the research was to check a new therapeutic tool: psychotherapy with horses based on the Twelve Step program as part of the healing process of addicted youth in the therapeutic community of Retorno…
“From the findings it is apparent that combining Equine Therapy with the Twelve Steps program has a considerable positive influence on the healing process of addicted youth and can contribute greatly as part of an overall therapeutic plan. The positive influence expresses itself in a variety of ways: The possibility of lessening self-centeredness and of seeing the Other; accepting personal responsibility; developing self-image and self-confidence; discovering a new meaning to life; moving to a positive more of thinking; developing the ability to impose limits, and acceptance of self. The ability to utilize the horse’s positive characteristics, including the ability to reflect constant and immediate feedback, provides the rider with a source of information which helps her to acknowledge physical processes as an expression of internal processes of which the patient is usually unaware. The therapist who mediates in this process assists in verbalizing the experience and translating it, together with the patient, into practical results in daily life…
“This research into Rabbi Eckstein’s riding therapy which combines the Twelve Steps and the riding course is practically important especially because of the findings showing the advantages attached to this combination of therapeutic tools in the healing process of addicted adolescents. The toolbox these patients received as a result of this therapeutic intervention helps them long after the intervention; hence its importance.
“The greatest contribution of this research lies in the follow-up observation six months after the conclusion of the workshops and riding courses, showing that the clear majority of participants remained ‘clean’ and managed the illness of addiction with the tools they received from the therapeutic intervention…
A growing body of research supports the benefits of therapeutic horseback riding and equine-assisted psychotherapy, for treating mental health conditions and for addiction recovery. At Retorno, our clients can benefit from our on-site and intensive program of horseback riding in addiction recovery.
Lee, P.-T., Dakin, E. and McLure, M. (2016), Narrative synthesis of equine-assisted psychotherapy literature: Current knowledge and future research directions. Health Soc Care Community, 24: 225–246. doi:10.1111/hsc.12201 – click here for the article.
Click here for a summary of a study about how working with horses reduced aggression and anti-social behaviors.Please share this post!