The Tara Treatment Center Blog

Equine Assisted Therapy: How Does It Work?

Ask a Horse Specialist:
How Does Equine Assisted Therapy Work?

Equine Assisted Therapy

“Nothing does as much for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse.”  

Ted Roosevelt wasn’t the first to speak about the spiritual benefits of animal therapy.  Today, the field is rich with talk about treatments like equine assisted therapy for addiction and self-improvement.  How does this work?

Equine Assisted Therapy:  A Background


In equine assisted therapy, the horse takes on the role of a large biofeedback machine It provides the client and therapist important insights for achieving goals and working towards self-improvement. 

For example, if a client is feeling anxious, the horse will act and respond one way.  If the horse can perceive a change in the client, the horse will likely respond a different way. These interactions can provide information to the client and the therapist involved.

 “Stop thinking so much like a human.  Start feeling, like a horse” 
Horse Specialist Lucinda Vette Gives a TED Talk in Wisconsin.





Ask The Specialist:


Mrs. Julia Oliver (Director of Meadowstone Therapeutic Riding Center and certified PATH Intl Instructor) works with populations in recovery. 

Mrs. Oliver was kind enough to address several commonly asked questions on her experience promoting recovery as a horse specialist:


Q:  ‘How would you describe Tara’s Equine Assisted Therapy Program?’

Answer:  “The particular set of 9 exercise-activities that we rotate through  at Tara focus on the following particular benefits:  teamwork, cooperation, leadership, trust, connection with:  According to the latest studies, there are a whole variety of physicaleducationalemotionalspiritualsocial, and character-building benefits to the various kinds of equine therapy. 

‘We design the lessons so that each client will achieve success, even if there are difficulties in getting there.’

          The particular set of 9 exercise-activities that we rotate through at Tara focus on skills like teamwork, cooperation, leadership, and trust. The exercises foster a connection with animals, people, nature, spirituality, courage, patience, confidence, hopefulness, empowerment, problem-solving skills, attention, self-awareness of personality types and personal obstacles, and body control.”  

Q:  ‘What happens during an equine assisted therapy session?’

Answer: “Each lesson begins with a few minutes of ‘grooming’ a horse.  This gives the clients a chance to get close to the equines, overcome their fear of such a large animal, and see how gentle our horses are.  This activity alone is sometimes significant in certain clients.  Not only does it encourage confidence and trust, but with some, there is a spiritual connection, a calming influence on the soul, a social interaction both with animal and the other clients while grooming.

Then we proceed to the actual activity- some of the things we have the clients do on different weeks are: individually- halter a loose horse,  clean an equine’s hooves, round pen a loose horse until achieving ‘join up’, or build their own obstacle and then lead a horse over it while working as a team.
Once the activity is over, the therapist who has accompanied the group leads a processing discussion about what happened during the lesson and how it relates to each client’s recovery process.”


Q:  “Is there a mindset or attitude that may not work well with equine assisted therapy?”

Answer:  “Yes, we have had clients who just were not willing to participate.  There have been a few who were simply frightened of the animals, but we can usually work through that.”

Q: ‘What kind of client is best-served by equine assisted therapy?’

Answer: “It does not seem to matter whether a client has horse experience (good or bad) or whether they are an animal person, in general.  Mostly, they just have to come in open-minded and ready to give something new or out of their comfort zone, a try.  It is often hard to predict who is going to be most affected by the horses and what we do here.”

Q:  ‘Can you give an example of a lesson?’

Answer:  “One example of a lesson we do is called Blind Man, and the clients work in teams of three.  They take turns being either blind-folded, leading the horse, or being the spotter/helper.  The blind-folded client holds onto the saddle of the horse (like using a guide dog) and the team maneuvers through an obstacle course. 

     ‘The biggest emphasis in this lesson is trust- learning to trust your team to get you through rather than simply relying on yourself and falling down.’  

Q:  ‘What happens after the session?’

Answer:  “During the processing discussion, we talk about the symbolism of the lesson: relying on your higher power, your sponsor, your support group.

Most clients are quite nervous during the exercise while being blind-folded or leading the horse, but they feel a sense of accomplishment when it is over and (we hope) a sense of empowerment, that using the tools Tara is giving them, they can get through their own obstacle course of recovery.”

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