For many years, the use of animals in everything from physical therapy to assisting with developmental disabilities has produced remarkable results. Animals with the capacity for empathy can sense threats within a person, and that can provide a calming influence.

While many animals can provide this, horses have shown a more remarkable ability to benefit those dealing with conditions like autism, than virtually any other animal.

Equine-Assisted Therapy was developed with this remarkable reality in mind. But, if you’re not familiar with equine-assisted therapy, it may be confusing to understand how it could be beneficial or even how it works. Keep reading full a full breakdown of how this remarkable form of therapy is carried out.

How Equine Therapy Works

There are many similarities between people and horses. For instance, people are largely social, typically seeking other humans for a sense of belonging and friendship as opposed to remaining isolated. Horses also tend to travel in groups, the herd mentality ingrained in their mind, teaming up to survive. But neither of these is like a wolf pack where there is a sole alpha. It is more like a family.

It is because of these human-like bonds that horses are becoming more common in therapies for folks with sensory overload issues, like those on the autism spectrum. They can “read the room,” see what is working, and feel when it is time to give the patient some space, often much more efficiently than we can. They are incredibly intuitive, patient, and can ascertain emotions with an impressive sense of what is wanted, and needed, in a person.

Since the early days when man first started riding horses, the relationship has been one that cannot be truly understood but can certainly be felt. Consider the old cowboys of the wild west. Their horse was more dear to them than the other people in their life. But why? Simply, a horse has no capacity for malice, has no ulterior motives, and only wants to be respected, trusted, and cared for. That’s it.

When something is in your life that has only your best interest at heart, doesn’t ask much of anything of you, and shares your compassion, it provides a level of relaxation in the mind and spirit. This is one of the reasons horses make amazing therapy animals. They are content to stand there and be brushed or petted for as long as a person is willing to do it, a mutually beneficial action, providing a simple way for two entities to join in mind and heart.

Deeper Ways It Helps

Across the board, there are several paths to equine assistance with a multitude of issues:


Many people, but primarily those coping with mental health conditions or disabilities, find there is calm and clarity when tending to the needs of horses. The routine rarely changes and it gives them something to focus on beyond their own personal problems.


Horses cannot speak in human languages, but they still communicate within their groups quite well. They sense body language, facial ticks, and other forms of nonverbal cues many of us don’t register unless very detail-oriented. They can help patients to also understand social cues to better relate to other people.


If you do something a horse doesn’t like, it will tell you right away. Horses are very sympathetic but they do not stand on ceremony when it comes to bluntness. This is helpful with those who have trouble voicing their protests and tend more to cower from confrontation.


Horses require that they trust you before you can approach them, and definitely before you can ride one. Mount a horse without trust and see how fast you get bucked off. Trust with developmentally disabled people is paramount to their connection to others. They have witnessed plenty of people who have manipulation in their hearts. By accepting a horse’s sense of trust, they can better tailor their own trust decisions in their personal lives.


Some terrors lurk in the mind, hidden fears that seem perfectly understandable to the individual but completely ridiculous to everyone else. Horses also have fears. But what they can do is show a person how to live without letting fear run their life. They can give a person strength by example and inspire them to move past fear and live life to the fullest.

Final Thoughts

Horses are majestic creatures that have lots to offer the world beyond what we know now, and using them as a tool to unlock the minds and hearts of those in therapy is an amazing concept. 

If you’d like to get more information on locating equine-assisted therapy or hippotherapy resources, check out our community – Hippotherapy Hub – today!

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