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equine therapy addiction recovery

Equine Therapy and Recovery: How Does it Help?

So, last week I was talking to a gentleman who had some pretty strong opinions about the benefits of equine therapy. His exact words were, “A person whose been doing heroin for two years isn’t going to pet a horse and get cured.”

When I heard this,  I thought to myself, “He must not be the only person who views equine therapy in this light.” So, today, I wanted to talk to you about the very real benefits of this type of therapy.

Equine Therapy for Addiction Recovery

Improved Self-Esteem Among Users With Psychological Disorders

A study published in 2008 revealed that the use of horses and other animals in therapeutic settings is connected to

  • greatly improved self-esteem
  • quality of life
  • coping abilities
  • reduced symptoms of depression
  • reduced symptoms of anxiety
  • beneficial to schizophrenia and personality disorders

Out of the estimated 17.5 million adults in America that suffer from serious health disorders, approximately 4 million have a dual diagnosis and struggle with drug or alcohol addiction. Less than five percent receive treatment for both issues although treatment for both disorders is necessary for a full recovery. Often, psychiatric problems develop first and individuals turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with them. There are some instances, however, when drug use can cause long-term lasting effects on the brain that can lead to mental health problems.

Treatment of addiction with equine therapy can help address both sides of the dual diagnosis patient, improving their self-esteem and coping ability.

Increasing Dopamine With Equine Therapy

When  a person is misusing drugs, the brain’s reward system is directly or indirectly abused. Every time the drug is used, dopamine floods the brain. This neurotransmitter, which gives us that happy feeling every time we do something fun, exciting or pleasurable is typically reserved for natural behaviors such as enjoying a meal, falling in love, reaching goals, bonding with your child, or exercise. Using drugs interrupts this natural process and the body begins to rely on the use of drugs to cause pleasurable feelings.

After addiction treatment, that surge of dopamine may not come as quickly with the things that should make you happy or give you pleasure. Your brain needs time to retrain itself, and equine therapy is very beneficial to this process. As an individual builds relationships with the horses and spends time grooming them, taking care of them and talking to them, they soon discover the natural high this bonding causes.

Equine Therapy and Trust

Trauma has a way of affecting people, closing them off from others and making them less likely to trust. Many individuals in addiction recovery have suffered traumatic pasts that have changed their way of thinking.

When Dr. Blair Barone-Rice, founder of Horse Whisperer Rehab, took in a handful of severely abused horses a couple of years ago, she never could have foreseen the dramatic impact the fragile and vulnerable horses would have on equally vulnerable individuals struggling with sobriety.

“The horses were seized by the Broward County Sheriff’s Department and were hundreds of pounds underweight. There was no food on the property. They had laminitis and founder in their hooves.”

As these horses were rehabilitated, she began to see the connections the clients had with them.

Rehabilitated Horses: Rehabilitated People

Equine therapy offers very real benefits to those in addiction treatment and recovery. Gracious Care Recovery Solutions works exclusively with Dr. Blair Barone-Rice, a pioneer in the field, who is a Harvard graduate and has worked in the field of psychology for over 20 years.

Every one of her horses have been rescued in some way. Some have been mistreated, abused, or neglected, while others have been abandoned. These horses know what it’s like to experience trauma, pain and rejection. Their rehabilitation process has created a very powerful awareness in them that helps them connect to individuals who are in treatment for substance abuse.

Horses and Humans: The Gift of Connection

There is one particular story of a young man who had bonded with Liberty, a beautiful girl who was one of the Sheriff’s Department rescues. Liberty was paying particular attention to one young man, a client from a rehab center. She was almost protective of him. He sat down in her stall and started playing the guitar for her. They formed a special connection; it’s really unexplainable. Days later, this young man came to me and said he had planed on taking his own life that night, but something happened. There was a connection and he felt differently when he left the ranch.

This young man is very much alive today.

Horses are honest, which makes them especially powerful messengers or mirrors of ourselves.

This can help us to change.

Equine therapy in addiction recovery is just one of the avenues of therapy used to break through to clients. As with art therapy and music therapy, sometimes the process of recovery begins with breaking down our walls and learning to express ourselves in ways that don’t involve traditional talk-therapy.

Equine therapy is also a powerful stress reliever and the connection made with the animals is something that can be encouraged and continued long after a client’s time in drug rehab.

At Gracious Care Recovery Solutions, we take pride in offering a wide variety of therapeutic services. If you or someone you love is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, please give us a call today:


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