Equine Assisted Therapy: Access and Benefits to All
This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.
Therapeutic horseback riding can help those with mental disorders such as Autism, Depression, Anxiety, PTSD and ADHD progress physically, mentally and cognitively in ways that are unmatched. This type of therapy also allows those will mental challenges to have a place of comfort and a large support system behind their struggles. Both riding and being around horses teaches patience, respect and team work, while also increasing communication and focus skills. Path International is the leading organization regarding equine assisted therapy, and there are hundreds of organizations all over the world that focus solely on this type of therapy.
Below is a video by National Geographic that talks about the affect horses have had on an individual with PTSD, providing a strong example of how much horse can impact someone’s emotions and mental health.
Below is a video explaining further the benefits of horseback riding for kids and adults with mental and cognitive disorders.
Equine assisted therapy has been something I have been involved in for about two years. I frequently volunteer for Field of Dreams’ therapeutic horseback riding program and help out with lessons and special needs summer camps. I have always been passionate about horses, and seeing what these animals have done for kids with mental disorders is simply amazing. However, even though this type of therapy has so many benefits, I believe there are several things that can be changed to make it even better. This need for improvement gave me the idea to chose this as my Catalyst Conference Project, and I hope equine assisted therapy can progress even more in a forward direction.
This type of therapy has shown amazing benefits; however, accessibility is difficult. It is hard for people who live in urban settings to access this type of therapy because of the long commute to a rural area. Additionally, many people cannot partake in this type of therapy because of the cost. Both of these reasons make equine assisted therapy inaccessible to large groups of people, limiting many individuals from a great opportunity.
Interview with Dr. Veronica Lac Dr. Lac is both a psychologist and equine assisted therapy instructor. She explained to me some of the challenges of equine assisted therapy, as well as the greatest successes.
What is your approach when it comes to teaching kids with mental or behavioral challenges?
“My approach is that it’s important to meet the child where they are at. Much like working with horses, you never know what you get on the day/at each moment, and your way of working with them needs to take into account their variations. However, it’s important to have boundaries and know your own limitations. I work in a holistic way to take into account the context of what is going on for each student, not just in the barn but also what else is happening in their lives outside.”
Is there a story that sticks out to you the most involving extreme improvement and progress from a student?
“I worked with a 3 year old child with autism. When she first started lessons, she was completely non-verbal. She understood everything that was being said around her but wouldn’t or couldn’t speak. At the end of her 2nd lesson, she volunteered the word “Go!” She started to verbalize much more in the weeks that followed, so much so that her dad was completely blown away that after a couple of months, she said her first sentence.”
How does the difficulty of accessibility affect this program of equine assisted therapy?
“There have been some students that can no longer come out for lessons because they have no way of getting here. Our barn is not located too far out from Columbus, but some kids cannot make it out to lessons. We try to make the commute and timing to be as easy as it can be, but this does still affect the performance of some of our students”.
In effort to solve the problem of cost, I have proposed the idea to start a non profit organization for equine assisted therapy. Instead of making students pay for their lessons, fund raising and volunteer work could allow this type of therapy to be much more affordable. This is a very long process with many complicated steps, so it is definitely something I will be working with Dreams on Horseback with in the future.
Regarding the accessibility to this type of therapy, I thought of several ideas that can solve this problem. For example, instead of people traveling from cities into the country setting to see this horses, it is possible to transport these horses into urban settings. It would be especially easy to transport ponies and miniature horses to areas like parks so people would have the opportunity to interact with them without having to travel far. Horses teach people so much, and also alleviate stress, similar to all other animals.
This graph shows reports of positive experience with animal assisted therapy. In addition to equine therapy, other animals, such as dogs, have a similar effect with the improvement of mental health.
In the future I hope to continue to discuss these ideas with the organization that I work closely with. Both of the problems I addressed can be solved with the help and support by many. I will continue to spend my time volunteering for Dreams on Horseback, and I am excited to see the organization progress.
Do you have any other ideas regarding the betterment of Equine Assisted Therapy?
Are there any other ways we could make this type of therapy more accessible and affordable?
“About PATH International.” PATH International, PATH Intl., 2017, www.pathintl.org.
Musick, Cheryl. “Animal Assisted Therapy: Personal Stories of Therapeutic Success.” Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders, 25 June 2014, www.rosewoodranch.com/blog/animal-assisted-therapy-personal-stories-of-therapeutic-success/.
“Our Mission.” Dreams on Horseback, 2017, www.dreamsonhorseback.org.