Animals have been used as therapeutic aides since 1800’s. Therapy professionals and counselors discovered that animals could be an important and effective part of a therapeutic session. This was believed to be true because it was observed that children given animal pets developed a stronger sense of self and responsibility towards their pets and general life. It was further observed that such children are less likely to appear socially withdrawn and could turn out to be more empathetic in nature. The acquisition of these characteristics was attributed to the free child-animal interaction.
Proponents of therapeutic horseback riding prefer the use of horses because there are numerous activities involved in the riding and keeping of horses. If teenagers take part in feeding, brushing and tackling of horses the activities could help them build their confidence levels and self-esteem. Simply due the engagement in these activities or the sheer joy of the fact that they can control a six foot, heavy friend that seems more powerful and graceful than themselves
Horseback riding is known to be therapeutic in nature and this has led to the development of a therapy named equine assisted psychotherapy. Therapeutic horseback riding involves the use of horses in facilitating counseling sessions aimed at treating individuals with behavioral, mental and emotional disorders. A high number of emotionally troubled teenagers have trouble with connecting with people including their peers. There exists various reasons as to why these teenagers cannot cope-these include the use of drugs and peer influence. However; the final state still manifests the same characteristics of lack of intimacy, emotions and disconnection from parents, peers and teachers (Mandrell, 31).
According to Mandrell (23) horses like most animals have unconditional appreciation and accept anyone with least familiarity. Therefore, they can help teenagers who may not be free to express their emotions or connect with other people. This equine assisted therapy could help teenagers by offering a safe way that allows them to explore their inner feelings and thoughts whilst having no fear of being rejected or other consequences that they could have experienced in their homes. After learning to bond and connect with the horses the teenagers learn that they too can bond with the rest of the people in a similar manner.
Additionally, horseback riding creates a change in environmental surroundings that gives both the teenager and counselor a chance to feel freer as they go out of the usual clinical set up. This may help the teenagers feel freer and open up than when confined in the counseling room-particularly helpful to claustrophobics. Their experience of seeing the counselor tenderly care for the horses may create an impression on the teenager that indeed the counselor could be trusted. The building of this confidence is meant to make the teenagers open up further in order to share their emotions (‘Equine Therapy, n.pag).
Biological studies indicate that the human body increases the amount of endorphins (hormones responsible for creating a good feeling) released into the body when a person spends at least 10-15 minutes with a friendly animal. Simultaneously, the levels of cortisol (hormone responsible for stress and arousal control) decline in the human blood. This should be very helpful therapeutically because teenagers are always near a state where they are always on the brink of arousal and stress. The positive regulatory balance that results from increased endorphins and reduced cortisol should help make emotionally troubled teenagers calmer. Horses shy away from behavior that is aggressive, and therefore; emotionally troubled teenagers would learn that gentle behavior yields better results (‘Equine Therapy, n.pag).
Horse riding can be an expensive engagement for many families that may find it unaffordable. However, others may simply shy off because they take it to be an unnecessary and expensive undertaking to put their teenagers into equine therapy sessions. It is certain that many can agree to the fact that it may cost a parent more money to rehabilitate a teenager from substance abuse and emotional distress than it would to put them through equine therapy as a preventive measure. More often than not many teenagers fall into bad habits such as substance abuse and pre-marital sex because they have cooped up energy that they need to release. Therefore, in their free time if they have nothing positive to engage in, then they are more likely to fall into these habits in experimentation or due to negative peer influence. Therefore, it would be better to engage them in horseback riding. This is important because apart from offering them an activity that will keep them busy, it will also serve a therapeutic purpose to the teenagers and help them build their social character, behavior, emotions and physical body (Chris, n.pag). Therefore, horses can be a very good choice of therapeutic animals for teenagers because they offer both bodily exercise and therapy for the teenagers.
Chris.A. Kids and Horses: Benefits of horseback riding on kids. 2004. Web. 8th June, 2010. Retrieved from http://www.fivestarranch.com/articles/kid-horse.html
‘Equine Therapy’. Equine Therapy: Animal assisted therapy for troubled teenagers. 2009. Web. 8th June, 2010. Retrieved from http://www.equine-therapy-programs.com/therapy.html.
Mandrell, J. Patti. Introduction to Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy: Benefits to equine assisted psychotherapy. East Longmeadow, MA: Xullon Press. 2006. Print.