Equine Therapy

Animal/Equine Assisted Therapy – Knockadreet Farm

Knockadreet Farm is a 60 acre farm with equine facilities located in Roundwood Co. Wicklow.

Attuned Programmes animal assisted and equine therapy service programme will be based on the principle that contact with animals and nature provides opportunities to rediscover, explore and clarify more resourceful ways of living in an environment of acceptance and trust.

Animal therapy, also called animal assisted therapy/learning, refers to various services using animals to help people with specific physical, mental health and attachment issues.

It is a type of complementary or alternative therapy. It should enhance but not replace other clinical treatments.

On the whole, the goal of Attuned Programmes animal assisted therapy/learning is to alleviate or help people cope with some symptoms of various conditions where possible.

The exact type of animal therapy can vary greatly depending on what condition the person has, the type of animal, and what kind of therapy they provide.

Animal therapy builds on a concept called the human-animal bond, which describes people’s desire to interact with and relate to animals. For many people, by interacting with a friendly animal, they can form a bond with them. This bond can produce a calming state in the person.

This bond itself may help the person in several ways:


  • reducing boredom
  • increasing movement and activity through walks and play
  • providing companionship and decreasing loneliness
  • increasing social interactions
  • improving mood and general well-being


The positive interactions with an animal may lead to benefits in the mind and body, such as reduced stress and an overall more balanced mental and emotional state.

Animal therapy partially uses this bond in a directed way to achieve the goals of the therapy.


How Does It Work?

Animal therapy can have several goals, and these will determine how it works. The type of therapy and target for this therapy may change depending on the condition and the type of aid that a person needs. Some examples include:


  • providing comfort and reducing levels of pain
  • improving movement or motor skills
  • developing social or behavioral skills
  • increasing motivation toward activities such as exercise or interacting with others


A review study notes that animal therapy appears to provide general benefits for both physical and psychological health. Evidence for animal assisted therapy appears strongest for markers of anxiety and depression in the widest range of people.

The researchers note that the therapy may be beneficial for people from many different age groups with various conditions. For example, a 2019 study found that the use of therapy animals improved the efficacy of mental health treatments among adolescents.

Together, these factors may make the therapy helpful for aspects of conditions such as:


  • dementia
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • autism spectrum disorder
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • schizophrenia
  • attachment issues
  • addiction issues
  • OCD
  • ODD


Studies involving the use of therapy horses and dogs have shown that animal therapy might also help alleviate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some people going through rehabilitation for addiction issues may also respond well and have a greater sense of well-being when working with an animal.

Children is residential care


A study examining the relationship between children placed in a residential homes and their interactions with farm animals revealed that contact with the animals helped to relieve children’s sadness, ameliorate feelings of anger, facilitated increased calm and developed nurturing behaviours (Mallon, 1994). Animals have been shown to alleviate depression in young people and adults with attachment issues (Siegel, Augulo, Detels, Wech & Mullen, 1999) while contact with birds has been found to reduce depression, loneliness and low morale among vulnerable people (Jessen, Cardiello & Baun, 1996).


Physical health

Some forms of animal therapy may also help with markers of physical conditions, including:



Working with an animal in these cases may motivate the person to continue therapy, boost their mood, and reduce signs of pain. For physical conditions, it may help them move correctly and exercise often.

Additionally, some long-term care facilities may offer animal therapy programs to help improve the mood and general well-being of people in these facilities.

A study in Psychogeriatrics found that dog assisted therapy in long-term elderly care facilities helped reduce symptoms of depression. The research suggests that the dogs help facilitate social interaction and create positive emotional responses.

Equine Therapy


Equine-assisted psychotherapy incorporates horses into the therapeutic process. People engage in activities such as grooming, feeding, and leading a horse while being supervised by a mental health professional.

Goals of this form of therapy including helping people develop skills such as emotional regulation, self-confidence, and responsibility..

However, equine-assisted therapy is growing in popularity due to its experiential approach and some burgeoning evidence of its effectiveness. There are a variety of terms used to describe or reference equine-assisted psychotherapy, including:


  • Equine-assisted mental health
  • Equine-assisted counselling
  • Equine-facilitated psychotherapy
  • Equine-assisted therapy


The last term, equine-assisted therapy, can also often refer to other forms of therapy where horses are used, such as with occupational therapy.

Who It’s For


Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) can be used with a variety of populations and in a variety of therapeutic settings. In fact, horses can be used in counselling with individuals of all ages, even with families and groups.

Equine-assisted psychotherapy is often not the sole form of treatment, but rather a complementary therapeutic service to be used in partnership with more traditional treatment.

Offering a much different experience than traditional talk therapy, EAP brings people outdoors and offers an opportunity to use all senses while learning and processing through emotional challenges.

Children and Teens


Equine facilitated psychotherapy may be just as effective with children and teens as it is with adult clients. As with adults, children can experience challenges such

as trauma, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more.

Children often find it difficult to open up and process painful emotions and experiences. Equine-assisted psychotherapy allows youth, and people of all ages, to work on issues such as:


  • Assertiveness
  • Confidence
  • Developing and maintaining relationships
  • Emotional awareness
  • Empathy
  • Impulse control
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Social skills
  • Trust in others
  • Trust in self


Although a variety of animals can be used in the psychotherapeutic process, horses offer unique traits that have made them a top choice for animal-assisted therapies. According to anxiety expert Dr. Robin Zasio, horses bring the following unique elements to the therapy process.

Non-Judgmental and Unbiased

As much as humans, especially therapists, do our best to offer a safe space for clients to explore deep emotional hurts and painful experiences, it can be uncomfortable for clients to openly share their thoughts.

Building therapeutic rapport can take time as participants working toward building trust and practicing vulnerability in session.

Having the horse present may offer a sense of peace, as they only will react to the client’s behaviour and emotions with no threat of bias or any judgment of their emotional experience.

Feedback and Mirroring


Horses are keen observers and are vigilant and sensitive to movement and emotion. They often mirror a client’s behaviour or emotions, conveying understanding and connection that allows the client to feel safe.

This also allows for clients to maintain a sense of self-awareness, using the horse’s behaviour and interactions for feedback and opportunities to check in and process what is happening in the moment.

Managing Vulnerability

As clients might find themselves vulnerable when trying to open up about emotional challenges, past experiences, or life transitions, the horse can offer a reference point to use for processing.

If something feels too painful to speak of, it can feel a bit easier for clients to process using the horse as an example, or to align their experience with the horse’s experiences in the moment. Externalizing the content in this way can make things easier to approach and process through.

Other Benefits

Some other potential benefits of equine therapy include increased:

  • Adaptability
  • Distress tolerance
  • Emotional awareness
  • Independence
  • Impulse control
  • Self-esteem
  • Social awareness
  • Social relationships

Horses also require work. They must be fed, watered, exercised, and groomed. Providing this type of care can often be therapeutic. It helps establish routines and structure, and the act of caring and nurturing something else can help build empathy.


Equine therapy has some evidence supporting its effectiveness in helping to manage several conditions.


Anxiety affects more than 17 million Americans. Although most people experience some level of anxiety at points in their lives, especially around experiences involving change and uncertainty, there are times when people experience anxiety that meets clinical diagnostic criteria. Anxiety-related conditions include, but aren’t limited to:



Since horses are vigilant and sensitive to behaviour and emotions, they can sense danger and respond with a heightened awareness, which typically leads to a change in their behaviour and possible attempts to get away. Clients who struggle with anxiety can relate to this developed ability to sense danger cues and respond in a heightened way..

Another benefit of using equine-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of anxiety is helping clients practice vulnerability in a safe environment. As clients learn to interact with the horse

and try new things, they are being asked to step out of their comfort zone with the help and support of the therapist and the horse.

Clients can then process their experience, such as the fears and challenges, as well as any insights, discoveries, or victories in those moments during therapy.



Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a disordered marked by increased arousal and reactivity, intrusive memories and nightmares, and avoidance symptoms after a traumatic event, can feel debilitating. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA), it is estimated that 7.7 million people aged 18 or older struggle with PTSD.3

Children, teens, and adults can struggle with PTSD. Although people can experience a variety of traumatic events that could influence the development of PTSD, those who have experienced sexual assault, as well as veterans who have experienced combat, are populations who tend to have higher rates of the development of PTSD.

Addiction Treatment


It is known that drug and alcohol addiction continues to rise and be problematic in the Ireland.

Equine-assisted psychotherapy offers a unique approach to treating addiction and co- occurring conditions. A co-occurring condition, which used to be referred to as a dual diagnosis, describes someone who struggles with addiction in addition to having another mental health condition—a common occurrence.

The ultimate goal of addiction treatment is to help clients live sober, healthy, and productive lives. Many times in addiction treatment, clients are also working hard to heal hurts within relationship dynamics, such as within a family or with their partner. Learning to trust, practice vulnerability, and communicate effectively can be a challenge during this treatment process.

EAP can help clients learn how to develop a sense of trust through their interactions with the horse as they gain a sense of safety and build a relationship. The experience can encourage clients to be vulnerable as they learn new things and interact with the horses.

Interaction with horses, in particular, may instil individuals with a sense of confidence and feeling of freedom (Mallon, 1994, pp.463-464) and challenge an individual to develop a sense of courage and success.

Therapeutic riding, which uses equine assisted activities for the purpose of contributing positively to cognitive, physical, emotional and social well being of people with disabilities and mental health issues (Bizub, Joy & Davidson, 2003).

Equine-facilitated psychotherapy may include such activities such as handling, grooming, riding among others (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, 2013)


While animal therapy may be helpful for people with certain health issues, it may not be right for everyone.

Some people may be allergic to the animals that commonly play a role in therapy. Many people are allergic to the dander from a dog’s shedding, for example. For these individuals, animal therapy with a dog could cause far more harm than good.

Others may simply be uncomfortable with or afraid of the animals. They may not choose this type of therapy as it would cause them more stress.

In some cases, a person may become very attached to the animal rather quickly. This feeling could lead to possessiveness or actually decrease a person’s satisfaction with therapy.



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Germain, et al. 2018. Animal-assisted psychotherapy and trauma: a meta-analysis. Anthrozoos. Vol. 31, pp. 141-164

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