Veterans Multi-Purpose Center is a proud
member of the NORTH AMERICAN RIDING FOR THE
HANDICAPPED ASSOCIATION WITH A SPECIAL
INTEREST IN EFMHA AND THE EQUINE GUIDED
THE FLORIDA VETERANS MULTI-PURPOSE
OWNS TWO THERAPEUTIC HORSES AND USES SEVERAL
PRIVATE AND CITY OWNED EQUINE FACILITIES IN
THE TOWN OF DAVIE, FLORIDA TO CONDUCT OUR
THERAPEUTIC PROJECT. HOWEVER, OUR PROJECT
ALSO OCCUR IN DIFFERENT VENUES. WE MAY MEET
FOR A SINGLE ENCOUNTER WITH VETERANS AT
VETERAN RELATED EVENTS LIKE THE TRAVELING
VIETNAM MEMORIAL WALL, VETERAN REUNIONS OR
VETERAN GATHERINGS. IN THESE SITUATIONS THE
VETERAN HAS THE OPPORTUNITY OF 'JOINING UP'
IN A ONE ON ONE INTERACTION WITH THE HORSE.
MORE TYPICALLY, WE MEET IN A GROUP SETTING
WITH A MAXIMUM OF EIGHT PARTICIPANTS,
CONSISTING OF TEN INDIVIDUAL SESSIONS
FACILITATED BY AN EXPERIENCED HORSE TRAINER.
Can grooming and riding
horses foster recovery from mental illness?
According to a recent article published in
the Psychiatric Times, the answer is "yes".
"Evidence has continued to accumulate; more
rigorous controlled studies are being
conducted, resulting in the emergence of a
significant body of literature supporting
the therapeutic value of the human-companion
animal interaction." An article reviewing
the benefits of animal-assisted therapy has
even appeared in the prestigious Journal of
the American Medical Association.
Benefits of Equine Therapy
Animal-assisted therapy has shown
evidenced-based efficacy in patients
including war veterans with PTSD,
conduct disorders, dissociative disorders,
and other chronic mental illnesses.
In light of research and
observational findings, experts suggest that
Equine Therapy a common form of
animal-assisted therapy--may yield a variety
of psychotherapeutic benefits. In our
everlasting search for new and alternate
therapy, the Florida Veterans
Multi-Purpose Center has embarked on an
experimental Animal-assisted therapy program
using staff owned horses and an equine
riding arena located in Davie, Florida. The
attempt of this program is to help instill
the following coping skills in veterans who
are presently living in our new supportive
housing program. Final arrangements are
being made to insure the program provides
adequate safety measures and other
considerations to our clients. Our intent is
to expand this program to an area in Central
Florida within one year.
The learning and mastery of a new skill
horsemanship--enhances patients' confidence
in their ability to tackle new projects,
such as recovery, and leads to improved
Learning to communicate and achieve harmony
with a large animal promotes renewed
feelings of efficacy. A motivated "I can do
it!" replaces feelings of helplessness and
motivation, empowering the person to take on
challenges in other areas of recovery.
Riding helps patients to develop a more
realistic view of themselves through
awareness of their size in relation to the
horse. This is especially important in
treating patients with eating disorders as
well as those with interpersonal aggression
Horses' sensitivity to non-verbal
communication assists patients in developing
greater awareness of their emotions, the
non-verbal cues that they may be
communicating, and the important role of
non-verbal communication in relationships.
Learning to trust an animal such as a horse
also aides in the development, or
restoration, of trust for those whose
ability to trust has been violated by
difficult life experiences such as physical
or sexual abuse, abandonment, neglect, or
Through grooming activities and other
types of care for a specific horse, patients
are able to put aside the absorbing focus of
their mental illness, such as depressive
ruminations, and instead to direct their
attention and interests outwardly toward
safe and caring interactions.
Many studies of human-animal interaction
indicate that contact with animals
significantly reduces physiological anxiety
levels. Some patients are initially afraid
of horses. But horses' genuineness and
affection allay these fears, helping
patients to embrace exposure therapy for
their anxiety issues.
For many individuals with mental
illness, there is a long-term or recent
history of feeling rejected by, and
different from, other people. Mental
illnesses are intrinsically isolating
experiences. The horse's unconditional
acceptance invites patients back into the
fellowship of life.
Many patients are initially concerned
that they will do something embarrassing
while learning about or riding the horses.
Yet patients quickly learn that the other
participants are engaged in their own equine
experiences, and they observe the comfort of
the horses in their own skin. Fears of
embarrassment in public are thereby often
reduced and self-acceptance increased.
Particularly for those whose mental
illness involves the experience of lost
control over impulses, the need to
communicate with a horse calmly and
non-reactively promotes the skills of
emotional awareness, emotion regulation,
self-control, and impulse modulation.
Research clearly indicates that
animal-assisted therapy reduces patient
agitation and aggressiveness and increases
cooperativeness and behavioral control.
Many individuals with mental illness are
socially isolated or withdrawn. A positive
relationship with a horse is often a first,
safe step toward practicing the social
skills needed to initiate closer
relationships with people.
Communicating effectively with a horse
requires the rider to demonstrate
assertiveness, direction, and initiative,
important skills that enable the patient to
express her needs and rights more
effectively in other relationships.
Many patients have experienced prior
relationships as controlling or abusive.
Healing takes place as patients discover
that riding occurs within the context of a
respectful relationship between a rider and
a horse, and that, although physically
powerful, each horse typically operates
within the boundaries of this mutually
Many persons with mental illness have been
emotionally inhibited or over-controlled,
and have lost some measure of spontaneity.
The playful aspects of riding and team
equine activities can help restore
spontaneity and ability for healthy
recreation and play.
FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO ASSIST WITH THIS
PROJECT, PLEASE CONTACT US.