Equine Therapy: Can Horses Help People Heal From Addiction?

Published on

Equine therapy is a treatment option available to some people in addiction recovery programs. It involves interaction with horses in an effort to reconnect with emotions and help recognize triggers for substance use.

Equine Therapy For Addiction

Equine-assisted therapy involves the use of horses to help a person reconnect with themselves. This type of therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for drug or alcohol addiction.

Using horses and other types of animal-assisted therapy is becoming increasingly popular for some people who may find it easier to connect with an animal than a human therapist.

Addiction treatment programs that feature equine therapy may also offer a range of other evidence-based and holistic therapies for substance abuse.

Origins Of Equine Therapy

The origins of equine therapy date back to ancient Greece, when the therapeutic value of riding horses was documented by Orbasis of Lydia in 600 B.C.

In 1960, therapeutic horse riding was introduced in North America with the formation of the Community Association of Riding of the Disabled (CARD).

While many different types of animals are used for therapy including dogs, cats, and dolphins, horses remain the most popular animal to use due to their sensitivity and intelligence.

How Equine Therapy Works

There is much more to equine therapy than simply riding a horse. People who participate in horse-assisted therapy are tasked with grooming, feeding, and caring for the horse on a daily or weekly basis.

Depending on the treatment program, equine therapy may be conducted in a group or individual setting.

Sessions are typically led by a licensed therapist that will guide clients through a series of exercises involving the horse.

Some therapeutic sessions may require clients to lead the horse to a designated area or put a halter on the horse and discuss their thought processes and feelings while completing the task.

These exercises are meant to help people learn about themselves and their triggers for substance abuse while building a sense of responsibility.

Benefits Of Equine Therapy During Addiction Recovery

Equine therapy can be beneficial in a variety of ways, as working with a horse requires a client to build trust with another living being while gaining insight into their own behavior.

Some of the documented benefits of equine therapy include:

  • boundary setting
  • self-esteem and confidence building
  • improved communication skills
  • reduced negative emotions
  • relaxation
  • feeling connected and needed by another living being
  • development of new coping skills
  • improved mental and emotional stability

According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), clients with substance use disorders who participated in equine therapy felt a greater responsibility to stay in treatment.

Why Horses Are Used For Animal-Assisted Therapy

Horses are used for various types of therapy because of their large stature, emotionally sensitive nature, and ability to mirror and respond to a person’s feelings.

Due to their instincts as herd animals, horses have a finely tuned sense of how to respond to other horses in their herd. If one horse gets scared, the others will get frightened and run away.

This instinct applies to human interaction as well. People who approach a horse with fear will likely be met with timidness or stubbornness from the horse.

Over time, horses can help people with substance use or mental health disorders process their emotions, gain confidence, and identify their feelings.

What Types Of Disorders Equine Therapy Can Help Treat

Equine therapy may work for people with a variety of co-occurring psychological and behavioral health disorders.

Co-occurring disorders that may be treated using equine therapy include:

  • depression
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • eating disorders
  • anxiety disorders
  • attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

People who are interested in equine or animal-assisted therapy can contact the treatment center of their choice and ask if animal-assisted or pet-friendly rehab programs are available.

Some addiction treatment centers for veterans will feature equine-assisted therapy due to its effectiveness for clients with trauma-related issues.

Other Substance Use Disorder Treatment Options

There are a number of other evidence-based treatments that may be integrated into an addiction recovery program that features equine therapy.

Additional treatment options may include:

  • individual, family, and group therapy
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • dual diagnosis treatment
  • medically monitored detox
  • trauma-informed care
  • relapse prevention services

Other types of holistic treatment services may include acupuncture, yoga classes, music therapy, mindfulness meditation practice, and more.

Find An Addiction Recovery Program Today

For more information about addiction treatment programs, contact our team at DetoxRehabs.net today.


Canton, Massachusetts

Bedrock Recovery Center


Levels of Care:

Payment Options: Insurance Accepted, Self Pay

View Center Profile

Plymouth, Massachusetts

Ohio Recovery Center


Levels of Care:

Payment Options: Insurance Accepted, Self Pay

View Center Profile
Spring Hill Recovery Center


Detox Rehabs Logo