While Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, can be extremely debilitating for soldiers, survivors of terror attacks, natural disasters, victims of crime and other ordeals, one unique method has been proven to ease its symptoms: horse therapy.
The National Institute of Mental Health, which runs extensive research on PTSD, notes that in the US alone about 7.7 million adults suffer from the malady. Symptoms include emotional numbness, depression, loss of interest in things they used to enjoy, substance abuse, irritability, aggression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and more. PTSD can even strike those who have not personally experienced a trauma but are close to others who have, such as a friend, family member, or community. Horse therapy has successfully been used to treat all of these symptoms, as well as autism and behavioral and psychiatric disorders.
Terror expert and founder of Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund, an organization which provides healing therapies to terror victims from Israel’s Biblical heartland, David Rubin, explained to Breaking Israel News the benefits of horse therapy.
“When a person goes through any traumatic experience, be it war, terror, natural disasters, etc., they feel that they have lost control over their lives. A person, especially a child, who learns how to work with horses and control its actions and movements, brings back to his or her life a bit of order and control. This leads to tremendous healing,” he said.
Horse therapy, also called Equine Assisted Therapy, dates back as early as 600 BCE to the ancient Greeks, when it was used on people with incurable illnesses. Hippocrates also discussed the therapy in his writings. From the 17th century, horse therapy was prescribed for gout, neurological disorders and low morale. It was also employed to help rehabilitate soldiers wounded during the First World War.
Noting the healing experienced by traumatized children from the Biblical heartland when receiving horse therapy, Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund recently doubled the amount of children receiving this therapy. Bracha Moses shared with Breaking Israel News the positive effect horse therapy had on her son.
“My son found it hard time keep up with the other children his age and had communication challenges,” she said. “When he learned to control the horse, this taught him to focus and instilled in him a feeling of success that definitely boosted his low self esteem.”
The Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund program includes children recovering from PTSD, as well as those needing special education. They often learn in classrooms that are actually located on a horse farm, where they receive regular classes along with the horse therapy.
“We found that children suffering from psychological and emotional trauma, ADHD, and even the limitations of Down Syndrome make tremendous strides with horse therapy,” continued Rubin. “If a person can control a horse, which is much bigger and stronger than him or her, it builds confidence.
“Children who cannot control themselves or feel overwhelmed by the traumatic events in their lives, heal and develop healthfully through learning to control a horse. In addition, by caring for horses, they also learn responsibility and to love again.”
Horse therapy has many advantages over verbal therapy: horses are highly intelligent, non-judgmental creatures that pick up on the mood of the person near them or riding them. Horses are highly effective at mirroring the attitudes and behaviors of the people they are working with.
As people often have difficulty talking about their traumatic experiences or are unclear about their own feelings, the horses mirror the child’s inner feelings, demonstrating aggression, sadness, fear or warmth. This leads the person to better understand his or her own emotions and helps them to reconnect with themselves and others.
“Horse therapy brings physical, cognitive and emotional improvements to nearly every person who receives it,” said Rubin. “These include improved interpersonal relationships, emotional awareness, impulse control, and less anxiety.”
Mental health professionals as well as horse therapists work with patients, not only training them to ride the horses but also teaching them how to care for, feed and groom them. Horse therapy helps people to heal and learn about themselves and others by getting them to tap into their own feelings and behaviours.
Patients develop skills, such as accountability, responsibility, self-confidence, problem-solving skills, and self-control and helps them to address a range of emotional and behavioral challenges.
To support the therapeutic healing of children from Israel’s Biblical heartland, please visit here.
This article was written in cooperation with the Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund.