Building A Sanctuary
Animal-assisted programs have shown evidenced-based success in patients including war Veterans and First Responders with PTSD, depression, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, dissociative disorders and other chronic illnesses. Experts suggest that Equine Programs, a common form of animal-assisted programs, may yield a variety of psychotherapeutic benefits. The attempt of this program is to help instill the following coping skills in Veterans and First Responders.
Apprehension Reduction: Studies of human-animal interaction indicate that contact with animals significantly reduces physiological anxiety levels. Some are initially afraid of horses. But horses’ genuineness and affection calm these fears.
Decisiveness: Communicating effectively with a horse requires the rider to demonstrate decisiveness, direction and initiative. These are important skills that enable the participant to express their needs and rights more effectively in other relationships.
Personal Space: Many participants have experienced prior relationships as controlling or abusive. Healing takes place as participants discover that riding develops a respectful relationship within the context between a rider and a horse, and that although physically powerful, each horse typically operates within the boundaries of this mutually respectful relationship.
Communication: Horses’ sensitivity to non-verbal communication assists participants 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.
Assurance: The learning and mastery of the new skill of horsemanship, enhances participants confidence in their ability to tackle new projects such as recovery and leads to improved self-esteem.
Spontaneity: Many people 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 this ability for healthy recreation and play.
Reducing Isolation: For many individuals 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 participants back into the fellowship of life.
Self-Control: Particularly for those whose mental condition 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. Research clearly indicates that animal-assisted programs reduce agitation and aggressiveness and increases cooperativeness and behavioral control.
Objectivity: The activity of grooming and other types of care for the horses, enables participants to put aside the absorbing focus on their mental condition, such as depression, and re-direct their attention and interest outwardly toward safe-caring interactions. Self-
Acceptance: Many are initially concerned that they will do something embarrassing while learning about or riding the horses. Yet they 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.
Self-Awareness: Riding helps to develop a more realistic view of themselves through awareness of their size in relation to the horse. This is especially important in treating persons with aggression problems.
Self-Confidence: Learning to communicate and achieve harmony with a large animal promotes renewed feelings of confidence. A motivated “I can do it” replaces feelings of helplessness.
People Skills: Many individuals are socially isolated or withdrawn. A positive relationship with a horse is often a first, safe step toward practicing the people skills needed to initiate closer relationships with people.
Trust: 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.