Equine-assisted therapies (EAT), or horse-assisted therapies encompass different approaches to treating humans with horses.
On one hand, there is a scale in terms of the symptoms that are being treated, from the rehabilitation of clients with physical disabilities (e.g., clients diagnosed with cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis), to neurological symptoms (e.g., clients diagnosed in the autism spectrum) and to more social or psychological problems (e.g., alcoholism, depression). On the other hand, there also is a scale in terms of how much the therapy focuses on the actual horse-riding and how much other horse-related activities (such as grooming and feeding the horses or other manual labor at the stable) are included in the therapy.
Various explanations are given with respect to why horses are effective in treating physiological and psycho-emotional symptoms. The three-dimensional natural movements of the horse provide rich stimuli to the rider and the body warmth of the horse is conducive to relaxation. Touching the horse provides with a variety of sensations and the horse stable as a whole also provides with a rich sensory environment.
The horse reacts strongly to the emotional states of the client and this, coupled with the sheer size and power of the horse, offers a conducive setting for learning emotional self-regulation. And while the human-horse bond is central to horse-assisted therapies, their setting also relies heavily on the client-horse-therapist triad, which is unique in all treatment settings.
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