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Equine-Assisted Learning for Addiction Treatment

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Anyone who has witnessed a loved one struggle with addiction can see the toll it takes on a person’s mind, body, and spirit. One of the reasons people may get stuck in the cycle of addiction is the damaged view they have of themselves. Those who struggle with drug or alcohol use may think they are “too far gone,” and unworthy of a chance to recover.

However, equine-assisted learning insists otherwise. When patients engage in alternative treatment approaches like equine-assisted learning, they are given the opportunity to feel useful, motivated, and connected to the bigger picture of their life.

Vertava Health offers inpatient rehab programs that incorporate alternative treatment like equine-assisted learning. This activity can be beneficial for some alongside evidence-based programming.


What Is Equine-Assisted Learning?

Equine-assisted learning is an alternative activity that involves direct interaction with trained horses. This activity often involves equine education, animal grooming, and being responsible for providing the horses with food and water.

Addiction treatment can be approached in many different ways. The highest quality of care should include diverse treatment options, including traditional and alternative activities. In recent years, there has been an increase of these complementary services that engage patients outside of a traditional, clinical setting.

Yoga, mindfulness, music, and animal-assisted activities have gained popularity among patients and staff alike. Among these alternative offerings is equine-assisted learning, which has been shown to statistically increase a person’s chance of completing treatment.

Equine-assisted learning helps may help some patients build skills such as responsibility and integrity outside of a traditional treatment setting, but not every patient qualifies for this activity. It typically includes 12 sessions, all of which build on one another.

Benefits Of Equine-Assisted Learning in Addiction Treatment

One study found that substance use disorder patients who were encouraged to engage in treatment that focused on a personal hobby like art or music had a more positive experience in treatment. This personal level of engagement may also increase the patient’s likelihood of completing the recommended course of treatment.

Patients who participate in equine-assisted learning may build a sense of:

  • productivity
  • usefulness
  • contribution
  • meaning
  • achievement
  • purpose
  • appreciation

Participating in equine-assisted learning may also provide patients with the opportunity to receive appropriate praise. As patients learn and grow in their sense of self, the leaders of these sessions provide support and encouragement in the moment.

Patients also learn to honor a regular commitment. This constructive use of time helps to instill a sense of personal and relational responsibility.

Alongside the use of evidence-based treatment modalities, some potential benefits of equine-assisted learning include:

Managing Emotions

People who struggle with substance use may have used substances to mask unpleasant emotions in the past. This can result in an inability to negotiate conflict in a healthy manner.

Working with horses in equine-assisted learning may inspire a sense of reverence. The size and presence of the horses is enough to garner respect. Once the horses begin to interact with the group, patients may begin to form a bond with their horse. This connection may help people build the emotional stamina required to manage difficult feelings like frustration or impatience.

Positive Identification

Rehab centers can be highly verbal environments that involve heavy emotional processing. While this has value, it can be a nice change of pace to work with your hands and feel physically useful. One research study that examined equine-assisted learning impacts found that participants responded positively to the manual labor components of each session.

Patients also mentioned the identity shift that occurred for them in equine therapy. Instead of being addressed in the context of substance use, they felt valued as a useful participant in the stables. One patient said it felt like they were no longer “a problem to be fixed.”

Being around trained horses and an experienced staff member is designed to create a sense of calm. Patients feel grounded when they are in the horse’s environment, which can help to create a space that feels safe, supportive, and nurturing.

Enhanced Relationships

Being outside of a clinical setting also seemed to change the interaction between patients and staff. Patients reported feeling a renewed sense of connection with their leaders when at the stables.

In equine-assisted learning, patients are not prompted to discuss their drug history or background. It’s simply about being in the here and now. Patients are encouraged to ask themselves, “What is the goal at hand? How will I relate to the horse in order to accomplish this goal?” This provides a positive setting in which to begin the journey of self-awareness.

Finding Equine-Assisted Learning at Rehab

Our behavioral healthcare center offers a diverse array of treatment modalities as well as activities to enhance the recovery journey like equine-assisted learning.

For more information on equine-assisted learning or to explore other Vertava Health treatment options, reach out to one of our specialists today.