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Healing Effects of Horses

by Naomi Sharp(more info)

listed in animals, originally published in issue 200 - November 2012

Spirit Of The Phoenix is a service that was set up to create an opportunity for individuals with either a physical, mental or emotional disability to come and spend time with horses, and learn how to be around horses safely as well as learn handling techniques. From this individuals learn life skills, social skills and emotional stability. They are also able to gain a bank of wonderful memories on the farm of times when they were successful in learning new things and applying them, which they can then transfer to other areas of their life.

Horse picture

Horses are creatures that bring something very special to each session; they are non- judgmental and sponges for affection. They ask that you are an effective leader when around them; in return you gain their willingness to be able to carry out the activities that you desire. With this, the individual can then create and everlasting friendship with the horse.

Horses are able to help heal the main three parts of a human - physical, mental or emotional -and when around the horses your are always improving these three areas sometimes without you even realizing.

Horse picture

How Horses Heal us Physically

Horseback therapy uses the movement of the horse to improve human function. It can help the majority of individuals with a physical disability. The reason for it being successful is due to the horse providing a platform to build on an individual’s functional ability. In addition they create opportunities for active problem solving; individuals are much more motivated to participate due to the environment and each session being unique due to the natural variability.

The horse provides a platform for repetitive and rhythmic movement, their walking pattern is very similar to humans, which allows an individual to be sat on the horses back whilst the horse walks around the arena. Similar muscles and neurons are stimulated as if the individual were actually walking themselves.

The horse helps individuals to improve sensory system, motor learning, the muscle and skeletal system, nervous system and circulatory system. When individuals are involved with the horse they may not realize all the areas that are being improved, as their attention is on riding a horse. The horse provides meaning and consistency to the activities, as well as giving the opportunity for the therapist to be able to grade activities as the individual progresses.

How Horses Heal us Mentally

The definition of mental health and learning disability varies, but at its simplest, it is thoughts that impact on an individual’s day to day life. When looking at the management of horses you need to gain an understanding of self-care, feeding, learning and many more activities that are similar to our activities of daily living.

Horsemanship is a great avenue to be able to accomplish an individual’s goals, as we use the horse’s sensitivity to show the importance of our thoughts. As horses are able to feel a fly land on their back, when working in harmony with them they can also pick up on your intention and their ability to see when you are not being truthful. So when carrying out a hind quarter yield the individual has to be clear in their mind what they want to achieve; this clarity and decision making then transfers to other areas of the individual’s life.

Through teaching the horse, the individual is also teaching themselves about relationships, communication, speaking, listening and body language. They learn about having boundaries and how to problem solve; in return they are then able to co- create with the horse, and their imagination soars as the individuals discovers what is needed to be able see themselves and the horse with a positive identity.

How Horses Heal us Emotionally

When around the horses an individual needs to be able to control their emotions, as feeling sorry for the horse or getting angry at them won’t create a harmonious relationship, as the horse asks for an effective leader. There is an emotional scale and it is about being aware of where you are on that scale and seeking things that make you happy to move up that scale.

As horses are living creatures they bring their own personality and questions to the session; they may ask do you mean it? or can I just stand here for longer, when asking to lead off which develops the individuals leadership skills. As with a human learning, when a horse is learning a new skill there is a period of confusion; we are not able to communicate in English as they don’t understand it, so an individual learns persistence until the horse finds the right answer and then praises the horse.

From this they are then able to notice that the solution isn’t found where the problem is; they need to sometimes take a step back and gain a new perspective on the obstacle they have come across; they may need to have several attempts until they find the correct answer.

The horse is able to see the subtle changes in the human and they then respond to that, which provides instant feedback to the individual, as well as providing an environment for an individual to overcome the obstacles that are holding them back. The horse doesn’t give an opinion about the problem, but encourages that active seeking of the solution, to that better feeling place.

In winding up this snap shot into how horses heal us, they bring variety into each session; as a team, they are able to co-create more self confidence in an individual, improve an individual’s ability to interact with others, whilst asking them to take responsibility for themselves and their actions. An individual is able to feel unconditional love, trust and respect from the horse and gain successful experiences in their ability in being confident in their own decisions.

Horses are able to help individuals discover all their positive attributes which provides an environment where they are able to establish an identity that isn’t based around their disability but around their ability, as that is all that the horse can see, all the good things that we all possess.

Spirit of the Phoenix

All these new skills transfer over to all the other areas of their life so they are able to have the confidence to try the things that they always wanted to do and understand the importance of activities of daily living. All this has an overall positive impact on an individual’s well being and quality of life.


  1. Jenny Powell said..

    This is very true. Horses teach humans how to be more assertive and more decisive in their decision making processes. I have been around horses for 16 years, and they never cease to find my weaknesses and make me more aware of my intentions. They heal our souls because they are unconditionally accepting. All you have to do is prove you are not their enemy, but their leader, and they will follow you anywhere.

  2. Catherine said..

    May any work and information be shared to me and forwarded by me?. I have an intuitive belief and personal experience that I want to substantiate in support of the worth ponies and horses offer people. This contact has been forwarded to me from a friend in France, but my interest lies in finding a contact or support interested in promoting our equine knowledge to more. Do you have any connections with professors at Cornell University?

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About Naomi Sharp

Naomi Sharp is an Occupational Therapist who has specialized in the area of using horses for therapy. Naomi has gained her American Hippotherapy Association (AHA) equine skills level 1 and treatment principles of Hippotherapy level 1, as well as gaining training in Equine Assisted Therapy.  Naomi has been around horses since a very young age and has had the opportunity to work in Ireland on a yard, do dressage in France and be at a wild horse sanctuary in America. Naomi loves being able to help individuals whilst still being around the horses. For further information contact Naomi on Tel: 07861644438 or visit


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