Equine-assisted Therapy

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: I just came across a term I had never heard of before—Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT). What is it? How does it work?

The name gives a clue to what it is. The name means Horse-assisted Therapy, and it involves horses in the process of helping people. It is purported to promote physical, occupational, and emotional growth in person suffering from a variety of mental conditions.

Some of the conditions for which it is used are ADD, Anxiety, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Dementia, Depression, Developmental Delay, Genetic Syndromes (such as Down Syndrome), traumatic brain injuries, behavioral issues, and abuse issues, just to name a few.

The purpose of the therapy is to help individuals with the noted conditions build confidence, trust, and impulse control, and to help develop boundaries.

Though other animals have been used for therapeutic purposes, horses are the most popular animal to use in animal therapy because they give immediate feedback to the one receiving treatment. Also, it is believed that horses have the ability to mirror the feelings of the one interacting with them. And it goes without saying that the large and intimidating appearance of a horse forces an individual to develop trust in the animal.

How does it work? It could include riding the horse, but not necessarily so. In some therapeutic milieus or in some sessions, a client might not even touch a horse at all. The degree of direct involvement with the horse would depend on the mental condition of the client and the goals of therapy.

It might include putting a halter on the horse, leading the horse, or feeding it. After the client completes the task to the best of his or her ability, time will be spent discussing the thought process. For example, if overcoming intimidation is the goal, time could be spent discussing what the person was thinking while leading the horse or working around it. It also is used to teach individuals with intellectual disabilities to follow instructions and care for the animal.

You will have to do your own research to find someone who offers EAT.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]

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