Equine Assisted Therapy – How Working With Horses Can Help Your Teenage Girl

Girl warrior on a horse.

From ancient warriors and princesses to today’s beautiful young ladies, the bond between humans and horses has always been a source of solace and strength.

Coined by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association in 1969, the term “equine-assisted therapy” seems relatively new but the concept of healing through horses has existed for thousands of years.

What is Equine Assisted Therapy?

Through grooming, feeding, and taking care of the needs of the horse this experiential therapy will help your daughter learn how to pick up on body language cues and how to communicate without words as well as learn how to build trust. Through eye contact or the pulling of the bridle reins and building trust with the horse, not only will she gain confidence through accomplishment, but the physicality can rekindle a sense of kindness and intimacy.

When girls are struggling with mental health issues, whatever they may be, they often withdraw and become virtually non-verbal. This plays to the strength of equine-assisted therapy.

Equine therapy is about setting boundaries between girl and horse, establishing herself as the authority figure. These commanding feelings can then transfer to a young lady’s relationships with friends and family, giving her the confidence to establish healthy parameters.

Why Horses?

Group of Belorussian horses outdoor in a meadow after working with equine assisted therapy.

Many different animals are used for therapy, but a horse has both physical and intellectual qualities that set them apart from the rest. These attributes make them more beneficial in the therapy of girls who are struggling to find themselves.

The sheer size and strength of a horse can represent the seemingly overwhelming issues a girl may be facing. When one day, after her hard work and diligence, her horse walks in perfect sync with her lead, she will realize that she can overcome anything and take control of her life.

How to Speak Horse: The Language of Equine Assisted Therapy

Horses are highly intelligent and extremely social beings with distinct personalities. That’s just one of the many similarities the girls have with the horses they are working with. Horses are emotional and intuitive, so they will pick up on, and play with, the attitude of their handler. The girls must learn their language cues and develop a way to communicate in return.

Body Language

Horses use almost every part of their body to communicate—you just have to pay attention. For example, your daughter will learn to look for:

  • Position of tail
    • High = alert or excited
    • Low = exhausted, afraid, in pain, or submissive
    • High Over Back = playful or extremely alarmed
    • Swishing = irritated or annoyed
  • Orientation of ears
    • Loosely up and pointed forward or outward = neutral
    • Stiff and pointed directly forward = alert
    • Out laterally with openings facing down (airplane ears) = tired or sad
    • Drooping to the sides = tired or in pain
    • Angled backward = listening to the rider or taking commands
    • Pinned against neck = angry and aggressive
  • Activity of legs
    • Pawing = frustrated
    • One front leg lifted = possibly mild threat, but sometimes normal while eating
    • One back leg lifted = usually a defensive threat
    • Stamping = protest or possible mild threat (but may also just be getting bugs off of themselves)
  • Facial expressions
    • Snapping = usually foals showing submission
    • Jaws open, teeth exposed = aggression
    • Flared nostrils = excited or alert
    • Eyes wide, showing whites = frightened

Vocal Cues

  • Squeal or scream = threatened
  • Nickers = sign of affection, courting, asking for food
  • Neighs and whinnies = let each other know their location (the horse version of Marco Polo)
  • Blowing = warning of danger

Healing with the Herd

A teenage girl washes and brushes a horse in stable. Take care of the horses for equine assisted therapy.

Another powerful facet of horse therapy is the importance of the herd. Each member has a role. The herd cannot survive unless each member fulfills their duty, including our girls.

A typical herd of horses has one or two stallions, mares, and foals. The stallions are guardians and breeders. The leader of the herd is an alpha mare. It is usually one that has been around for a while and experienced many things. The alpha mare decides when they will move or migrate and where they will stop.

Though physically weaker than the stallions, they are still the ones in control. This female authority can provide the girls with a sense of empowerment and a realization that females are mighty leaders.

Renewed Hope with Horses

Every girl is precious. Sometimes they just need a little help to bring out their inner alpha mare. Watch this video to observe the powerful impact of the equine-assisted therapy offered by Renewed Hope Ranch, then contact us for more information.