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Therapeutic Thoroughbreds: A Primer on Equine Therapy

The bond between man and horse is one that has existed since the dawn of civilization. A relationship based in trust and mutual respect is vital to the success of both rider and horse. A more recent exploration of our understanding of horses (and more importantly, their understanding of us) has led to a rapidly growing practice that is helping people around the world.

Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) encompasses a wide range of exercises that involves interacting with horses in a variety of different ways. This interaction facilitates mental and emotional growth through metaphoric connections from the interactions that occur during the session with the horse to their own interpersonal encounters with other people. Some of these activities may include leading the horse in specific patterns while putting little to no pressure on the lead rope. This exercise, which usually proves to be confounding at the first attempt, teaches the patient that the best way to lead a horse is not standing in front of it, but beside it, all the while using body language and cues to set clear boundaries between the patient and the animal.

While shown to be very effective with patients that manifest psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, dementia, autism, and attention-deficit disorders, Equine therapy has also proven to be extremely effective in treating physiological disorders such as cerebral palsy. It is believed that the natural rhythm and motion of a horses gait is soothing to those that suffer from such ailments.

Although there are plenty of animals that could be used for therapeutic practices, horses are more than qualified for the task. Their effectiveness in the field of EAT is due in large part to their ability to provide instant feedback to those around them, while also mimicking and personifying the behaviors of those around them. Through the skills, they are able to help people as they overcome life's obstacles.

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