The Benefits of Equine Therapy for Addiction | AspenRidge

Horses have the ability to both empower and calm a person, which are the main benefits of equine therapy for addiction. Equine therapy is helpful for a wide range of mental disorders, from ADHD to autism. Horse therapy can be particularly beneficial for treating drug or alcohol addiction. This is because using horses during a therapy session introduces both autonomy and discipline to an individual going through addiction treatment.

Why Use Equine Therapy for Treating Addiction?

When it comes to an equine therapy definition, the most basic understanding of this approach is that horse therapy uses both the physical and psychological elements of horse training as a metaphor for recovery from addiction. While the specifics of Horse Assisted Therapy move beyond this basic definition in practice, the main idea remains the same. Learning to work with horses is certainly a benefit of equine therapy, but the major point is to introduce the opportunity to build confidence, strengthen communication skills, and translate horse training into addiction rehab as a whole. This sets the stage for discussing the specific benefits of equine therapy for addiction treatment, as well as how horse therapy works.

What is Equine Therapy for Addiction Treatment?  

Equine therapy, otherwise called horse therapy or Horse Assisted Therapy, is a groundbreaking approach to addiction treatment. Utilizing horses in therapy is applicable in many different areas, ranging from treating trauma to helping youth that struggle with depression or anxiety. More recently, equine therapy has been applied to addiction treatment. Equine therapy is not just about riding horses for fun or for relaxation. Instead, equine psychotherapy is an extensive subset of addiction treatment as a whole. Just as with other forms of addiction treatment, horse therapy works to provide individuals in recovery the opportunity to engage with their experiences and emotions, build relationship and coping skills, and connect with those around them.

What Does Equine Therapy Include?

With this in mind, Horse Assisted Therapy utilized the entirety of equestrian practices – meaning horse training and riding. Most comprehensive equine therapy programs include not only riding lessons, but all the other equestrian elements as well. This includes instruction in how to groom horses, how to saddle a horse, how to take care of a horse, and how to communicate with horses. While there is no set equine therapy definition, the overarching idea of the horse therapy approach is to provide a stable environment for addiction treatment while simultaneously bringing those in recovery to see themselves as something other than an addict. But how does equine therapy work, and what are specific equine therapy benefits?  

What is Equine Therapy’s Process?

Using horses in treating addiction is not just pie in the sky. Research has shown that equine therapy can be very effective in helping those struggling with substance abuse get the help that they need, as well as see more positive change in the long run. In the past two years, two separate addiction research articles on the topic have shown three ways in which Horse Assisted Therapy provides a valuable addition to addiction treatment as a whole.

“Keeping substance use disorder patients actively engaged in treatment is a challenge. Horse Assisted Therapy is increasingly used as a complementary therapy, with claimed motivational and other benefits other physical and psychological health.”

~ Ann Kern-Godal

The Environment: Equine therapy provides a stable environment for addiction treatment patients. In turn, this helps therapists communicate important ideas regarding coping strategies, relationship tools, and more. Being outside and focusing on equestrian training is both a unique and a safe environment for engaging in addiction treatment. The Motivation: Equine psychotherapy is also helpful in keeping participants engaged with addiction treatment. Sometimes individuals get burned out of therapy sessions and group meetings. Equine therapy changes up the setting and process of treatment, while still focusing on tools for overcoming addiction. The Activity: Rather than simple talk-based therapy or group support meetings, equine therapy provides an activity for addiction treatment patients to engage in. This can be extremely helpful in putting the ideas of addiction treatment into practice. It can also help participants focus in on the activity, giving a break from usual addiction treatment.

The Benefits of Equine Therapy for Addiction

Horse Assisted Therapy has many different benefits when used to treat drug addiction. These benefits are psychological, physical and even metaphoric. In other words, working directly with horses allows those undergoing addiction treatment to make connections between how they create a gentle relationship with the horse and how they approach relationships with those around them. Using the relationship with the horse as a metaphor, equine-assisted therapists are better able to engage with patients in addiction rehab. In a phrase, horse therapy engages the three elements crucial to overcoming addiction: the heart, the mind, and the body. By empowering individuals to work with horses, equine therapy builds confidence and trust in those going through addiction treatment. This confidence allows participants to move beyond an ‘addict mentality’, refocusing on what they can do instead of what they cannot do. Just some of the major equine therapy benefits include:

  • Confidence
  • Communication skills
  • Trust in others
  • A new perspective and way of thinking
  • Relationship and social skills
  • Building healthy boundaries
  • Moving away from isolation
  • Improved self-image
  • Control over impulses

In other words, equine psychotherapy introduces many of the benefits of any other form of addiction treatment. All of these beneficial elements are crucial to overcoming addiction through rehab. While many of these benefits can be achieved through other forms of therapy, horse therapy provides a fun, stable and unique setting. This can help patients move outside of their comfort zones, learn something new, and face their addiction head on at the same time. Question: What is equine therapy? Answer: A beneficial and proven addition to addiction treatment. Ultimately, while an exact equine therapy definition will vary depending on what program you use, the benefits are clear. Horse therapy works as a complementary approach to addiction treatment. Introducing horse therapy alongside other addiction rehab approaches only makes the equine therapy benefits greater.   If you still have questions about what equine therapy is, or the benefits of equine therapy, feel free to contact us today.  


Ann Kern-Godal. (2016, October). How Substance Use Disorder Patients Experience the Stable Environment in Horse-Assisted Therapy. Retrieved from: Ann Kern-Godal. (2015, October). Substance Use Disorder Treatment Retention and Completion: A Prospective Study of Horse-Assisted Therapy for Young Adults. Retrieved from: National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2008). Horse as Healer: Applying Equine-Guided Learning to Uncover and Strengthen the Spirit of First Nations Youth Who Abuse Solvents. Retrieved from:

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