Healing Horses

Equine-assisted services center around horses helping humans in more ways than we can count.

By Abigail Boatwright

If there’s one thing horsemen know for sure, it’s that horses are good for the soul. Science has validated that anecdotal wisdom in recent years, and that whole-body enrichment is one of the main draws of using horses for therapy. And while some of the positive impacts of using horses in therapy are well-known, equine-assisted services now encompass a plethora of options to address increasing needs, from rehabilitation to leadership development. 

Wide-ranging benefits

Although Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International was founded in 1969, Director of Marketing and Communications Kaye Marks says therapeutic horsemanship has been around for thousands of years. Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates described the benefits of equine therapy for rehabilitation purposes over 2,000 years ago, and horses were attributed with curative physical, emotional and psychosocial qualities as early as 5 B.C.  The benefits of working with horses transcend physical rehabilitation to also include behavioral and emotional impact, making equine-assisted therapy an impactful addition to many customers’ treatment plans, including those navigating physical handicaps, brain injuries and stroke, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s and dementia, attention deficit disorder, autism, post-traumatic stress and more.

One of the primary groups served by PATH International equine-assisted services centers are autistic children and adults, Kaye says; she explains horses provide a calming influence for those clients that can last for days. In a recent study at the Temple Grandin Equine Center at Colorado State University, researchers confirmed therapeutic horseback riding encourages self-regulation behaviors, social functioning and language.


This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2023 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.