Can animals help the man to heal himself? Can animals be used to heal? Did you know what is equitherapy? The horse can be used for therapeutic purposes in case of psychological disorders. This article will tell us more!

Equitherapy or the horse to help psychological disorders. A new form of therapy, equitherapy uses the horse to help people in psychological distress. The only animal able to carry us and endowed with a particular character, the horse offers many possibilities of work.

Equitherapy, often called hippotherapy in Belgium, is a therapeutic treatment, unconventional and complementary to medical care. It takes into consideration the patient in his physical and psychological entity and uses the horse as a medium and therapeutic partner to achieve goals set according to the specialty of the therapist and the needs of the patient.

*** Brief History of the Equitherapy

Some therapeutic properties related to the horse have been known since antiquity. Horse riding was practiced in Greece in the temples of Aesculapius to promote the evolution of certain somatic diseases and to strengthen the limbs.

The virtues of contact with horses were already an advocated activity to support the education of children and adolescents and to improve the condition of people suffering.

Xenophon writes that “the horse is a good master, not only for the body but also for the mind and for the heart” (5th century BC). Hippocrates also evokes these virtues but recommends using only “safe” people. This practice was forgotten in the Middle Ages, then re-discovered in the Renaissance by Girolamo Mercuriale, Francisco Fuller, and Vescosi, who mentioned it in his work De l’importance de l’équitation in ancient and modern medicine. In the eighteenth century, Christian Jahn recommends riding daily for people suffering from hypochondria. In 1751, Diderot tackled in her Encyclopedia the many beneficial aspects of riding, claiming that she can cure a large number of diseases and prevent them before they declare themselves.

I – What Is Equitherapy?Did you know what is equitherapy?

The origin of the word equitherapy: it is composed of two radicals, equus which means horse in Latin and therapeia which means treatment or care in ancient Greek.

According to the French Society of Equitherapy, “equitherapy is psychic care mediated by the horse and dispensed to a person in its psychic and bodily dimensions. ”

Other names are used in the wider field of equine mediation: “equitherapy”, “hippotherapy”, “therapy with the horse”, “rehabilitation by riding”, and “equicie” (in France), without however that international and consensual definitions do not make it possible to precisely define and delimit each. For some, these different names would mean the same thing and the term “equitherapy” would be generic to refer to the care of disabled people with the horse. For others, each of these appellations would correspond to a type of action mediated by the specific horse according to its objectives, its professional field, and the audiences to which it is addressed.

1 – Definition of Equitherapy

So what is equitherapy? Equitherapy is psychic care mediated by the horse and dispensed to a person in its psychic and bodily dimensions.

This definition, provided by the French Equine Therapy Society when adopting the 2006 Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct for Equine Therapists, provides all the details and nuances that can identify and delimit the scope of activity of the equitherapy, provided, however, to understand it well.

*** The Term “Equitherapy”

To begin, let’s go back to the very word of equitherapy. It consists of 2 radicals: Equus (the horse, in Latin) and therapeia (treatment or care, in ancient Greek).

Contrary to what one sometimes hears, the word equitherapy is built regularly and should leave no ambiguity on the fact that the horse is the means of therapy, and not the object of the therapy. We are often asked if equitherapy treats horses, which we readily answer with a smile: neither does radiotherapy treat radio waves, nor does thalassotherapy cure the sea. The object of the treatment should not be confused about care (which is neat) and its way (how the care is practiced).

For example: physiotherapy treats with movement, chemotherapy treats with chemicals, light therapy treats with light and psychotherapy treats with psychological processes.

*** Equitherapy Is the Art of Healing the Mind Through the Mediation of the Horse.

It should also be noted that while the use of the word “therapy” has become an effect of fashion or even marketing in recent years, we do not accept to make any concessions as to its meaning. A therapy action is a caring action, it is aimed at a person with a specific illness, disability, suffering, or need. It must be practiced by a qualified professional, in a framework guaranteeing the protection of the person in charge and the reasoned nature of the actions undertaken in his interest.

As caregivers, we cannot accept the banalization we know in the use of the term equitherapy: for us, there is no therapy without a therapist. It is not because a person in difficulty is in contact with the horse that it receives a treatment, a disabled person must be able to do sports without necessarily selling him therapy, and people in search of care should be able to find the therapeutic activity of their choice without the risk of dealing with teachers who confuse therapy with learning to ride.

2 – The Notion of Psychic Care

The first notion that it is important to understand in connection with the definition of equitherapy is the notion of psychic care.

Psychic care is the care of which the object is the psyche: in other words, care whose effects relate to the psychological aspects of the person. It is the care of emotions, relationships, feelings, intelligence, understanding, will, desires, communication, language, attitudes, behaviors.

Some think that “psychic care” is the prerogative of psychotherapists, but it is again confusing the object and the means of the care realized by the psychotherapists. In medical education, psychic care is often called “relational care”, and it is an aspect of the care provided by doctors and nurses. Similarly, psychomotricity is part of psychic care, insofar as this discipline intervenes at the level of the interaction between the psychic functions and the body, and seeks the well-being and a balance in this interaction.

Psychic care can also be defined by its opposite:

it is distinguished from somatic care, that is to say, care that is interested in the body in its biology, physiology, operation, mechanics. When somatic care is practiced by the mediation of the horse, it is preferable to talk about hippotherapy (physiotherapy or functional rehabilitation mediated by the horse).

Equitherapy, therefore, seeks to improve psychic difficulties (anxiety, language delay, intellectual retardation, lack of self-confidence, communication difficulties, body image disorders, behavior problems, …) and excludes its field from the treatment of somatic difficulties (paralysis, infections, tumors, metabolic disorders …).

This does not mean that patients suffering from somatic pathologies can not benefit from equitherapy. For example, a person suffering from cancer can quite resort to the equitherapy, however, the objective of the work will never be to cure cancer, but for example to help the person to live as serenely as possible this difficult period (work on the psychic repercussions of the somatic disease).

3 – The Notion of Mediation by the Horse

Mediation, which is central to equitherapy, is based on the idea of a tripartite relationship.

In equitherapy, as in all mediated therapies, we are always 3: the patient, the therapist, and the horse.

Contrary to popular belief, which we regularly find in headlines of the press, the horse is not a therapist. It is not he who dispenses the care, who organizes it, who evaluates it or adapts it. Let’s say it again: the horse is not a magic wand, and it is not enough to be in contact with a horse to get better.

The horse plays a role of third: it provides an interface between the patient and the therapist, it is a point of balance, and focuses on the therapeutic relationship. The horse is an intermediary object that facilitates exchanges between the patient and the therapist. It sends, transmits, and receives messages. His behavior, reactions, and temperament are read by both the patient and the therapist.

Mediation is, therefore, to be understood as a means of facilitation: the medium (which is to be considered as a “tool” or a “partner” of the therapist) promotes interactions by leaving the therapeutic relationship of the classical face-to-face.

4 – Psychic and Bodily Dimensions

The definition of equitherapy reminds us that the care if it aims to relieve the mind, takes into account the psychic and bodily dimensions of the patient.

Equitherapy, therefore, considers that one can go through the body and the mind to achieve goals in terms of mental health. This is why the means used by the equitherapists can be of corporal order (perceptions, sensory stimulations, gestures, postures, tone …) just as much as psychological (verbal exchanges, emotions, desires, relations …).

As a Summary

In short, equitherapy is thus a caring activity whose boundaries are at the same time quite well defined, while maintaining a wide and diverse field of action. Equitherapy encompasses a wide variety of actions, which could range from horse-mediated psychoanalysis to equine-assisted coaching or management courses, through speech therapy or psychomotor work. to intervene the horse.

The common point in all activities of equitherapy is to involve the horse with the intention of solving a difficulty encountered by a person, in a rigorous framework based on ethics.

II – Equitherapy to Get out of the Medical Context

Children with autism, dyspraxia, schizophrenic adolescents or former prisoners, or soldiers returning from the front are all people in psychic suffering who followed an equitherapy in 2015. Nearly 30,000 people in total, in about 400 equestrian centers in France. Surprising figures regarding the confidentiality of this technique.

*** “We Leave the Medical Context”

It must be said that equitherapy offers a different approach to conventional care techniques by involving a horse or a pony. “This is the current trend, the public wants to leave the rigorous framework of medicine and the passivity of care, said Nicolas Emond, Equitherapist and Director General of the Institute of Training in Equitherapy (IFEq). I am a psychologist and it is sometimes difficult for patients to talk to a health professional behind closed doors, which is too intimidating. The motivation is increased tenfold with the animal because we leave the medical context. ”

Because it’s good to care that is in question. Equitherapy is for people with mental disorders ranging from real disability to simple social difficulties. “We receive children with autism, others with mental retardation, dyspraxia, school phobias, problems with concentration, problems of self-confidence but also people suffering from psychosis, schizophrenia, depression, a post-traumatic stress syndrome or in the reintegration phase, “explains Karine Martin, Equitherotherapist and Manager of the French Society of Equitherapy (SFE).

III – Efficacy and Benefits of Equitherapy

When certain medications are no longer sufficient or psychological monitoring sessions bring nothing, equitherapy can be an alternative or a complementary. Patients are looking more and more for a different path “than the rigor of classical medicine or the passivity of care,” adds Nicolas Emond. “I am a psychologist and sometimes it is difficult for patients to talk to a health professional behind closed doors, which is too intimidating. The motivation is influenced by the animal because it goes out of the medical context. The horse is waiting for the patient to come to him, he is not intrusive.

Many testimonials show how this technique has allowed them to escape depression, calm deep anxieties, or change difficult behavior. The spirit is better because the patient expresses himself through the horse, to the horse. It helps him to go to the other, to the animal, and to trust. The body also progresses because the individual is empowered by the care he gives to the animal, the physical communication he puts in place with him, and the tensions he learns to master.

1 – Equitherapy to Reduce Symptoms

The objective of the therapy is to make these people go better and their symptoms lessen. It does not claim to cure the cause of suffering or to replace conventional care but touches the mind, the morale, the personality of the patient. The cures are usually long, usually six months to a year at a rate of one session per week, and are based on different exercises including or not riding. This can be done through care, observation of movements, opportunities for the horse to follow, guide and guide. “A nonverbal communication but appealing to all the senses summarizes Karine Martin. The interest of this animal in relation to the dog, for example, is that it is not intrusive. He lets the person come to him. “The goal is to achieve mutual adaptability of movements and emotions: the horse responds to the gestures and feelings of the patient and vice versa. “The horse becomes a sort of mirror for the patient, who discovers what he has deep inside, who learns to manage his emotions.”

While the scientific evidence of efficacy deserves to be expanded, case studies show that the practice is beneficial for some categories of patients.

This is the case in young autistic people, with an improvement of socialization capacities, in dyspraxic children who have better coordination of their movements, in hyperactive patients who improve their attention skills, or in depressed or anxious people who see their symptoms decrease. And this benefit is not a subjective assessment, clarifies Karine Martin. “It is based on specific goals set at the beginning of the therapy with the patient or a third party and measured with appropriate scores and scales. Nine out of ten patients see their mental health improved after the therapies. “However, note a large departure bias, since people seduced by this approach are voluntary and often have an affinity with animals.

2 – The Horse Is the Mirror of the Patient

The horse acts according to his emotions. It uses non-verbal language that patients can decode. “We can work on the basics of the language with patients who have communication problems,” says Nicolas Emond, equitherapist in Ile-de-France.

Equitherapy uses all the characteristics of the horse that can echo in the patient. The horse is a mirror of the patient. “We read the internal state of the patient on the animal,” says Nicolas Emond. This is also beneficial to the patient himself. “When he understands how the horse works, he also understands his own functioning.

The horse is also the only animal that can be climbed. The fact of being carried away reminds a stage of development, the maternal cradle, which makes it possible to bring up emotions and sensations.

3 – Many Psychopathologies Relieved by the Equitherapy

Equitherapy helps relieve many psychopathologies, including autism, anxiety, mental retardation, or schizophrenia. It is beneficial for children who have problems with communication or language acquisition.

Like any therapy, it is intended for patients suffering from depression due to bereavement, emotional breakdown, or having problems with stress or lack of confidence. Its goal is to reduce symptoms, improve well-being and feel comfortable.

4 – A Medico-Social Setting

Although equitherapy is not widespread, it is increasingly known in the medico-social environment. Some institutions or even doctors, speech therapists or psychomotor therapists, can refer you to an equitherapist. Most of the demand comes from families who have already heard of equitherapy.

The equitherapy is to distinguish from the adapted riding, which takes place in a framework of leisure and sport. Objectives and activities, adapted to people with disabilities, are different from those of equitherapy.

5 – The Horse Offers Multiple Possibilities of Work

The equitherapist establishes a program adapted to the problem of the patient. The follow-up is regular, at the rate of one hour per week. The activities offered around the horse help patients develop various skills, both psychic and motor.

6 – Become Responsible

Stable work, for example, helps to establish the relationship between the horse and the patient. This one takes care of his animal, the brush. “It reverses the steam. Non-autonomous people who are used to being cared for are now responsible for someone else, “said therapist Nicolas Emond. The work at the carousel allows a time of observation of the horse without harnessing: the animal is free to do what he wants in this circular enclosure.

7 – Discover New Sensations

Another way to communicate, this time in a motorway: riding on horseback bareback, without a saddle, offers new sensations. The patient must find his balance and work his posture to communicate with the horse. As for aerobatics, which consists of standing or lying on the horse, it allows patients with problems of tone to feel their mass and helps to discover their body, to strengthen their overall motor skills.

The return to the stables allows a transition towards the end of the session. The patient arranges the equipment and pays particular attention to his mount. He makes fun of it through treats and learns to thank. This is also the time to conduct a session evaluation with the family and to make the link with the other institutional teams.

IV – The Job of the Equitherapist

Equitherapist: an unrecognized status. Equitherapy is not regulated. Its status is equivalent to that of psychotherapy, that is to say, that anyone can claim to be an equitherapist. So be careful who you are talking to. The therapist, in addition to a perfect knowledge of the horse world, must have an official diploma, have specialized training, and have signed a code of ethics.

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