A group of participants from the UK’s most extensive substance use recovery programme got up close and personal with horses. Change Grow Live service users took part in an equine therapy course in Leamington Spa.
Thanks to a recent funding grant, the program took participants in recovery to the Horse and People Project and made them amateur equestrians. Riding and caring for horses is called equine therapy — and it has powerful results in combating addiction.
Using Equine Therapy to Heal
Horses have a long history of offering comfort and healing. In ancient Greece, people with incurable illnesses were given horseback rides as part of their treatment.
In modern times, evidence suggests interacting with horses can help people with physical, mental and emotional struggles, including addiction. Licensed mental health professionals and equine specialists guide participants through riding and caring for horses to expand the reach of these benefits.
Equine therapy isn’t just useful for people in addiction recovery. It is also used for people with developmental delays or behavioral diagnoses and can benefit all ages. People who work with horses can build confidence, improve their self-esteem and create positive social connections.
Advantages of Equine Therapy for Overcoming Addiction
Recovering from addiction can lead to various mental and physical challenges. Equine therapy can assist with all areas of recovery.
Anxiety and depression commonly occur alongside addiction or develop in early recovery. There’s uncertainty about the future, fear of failure and cognitive distortions that can lead to increased stress. Equine therapy can help relieve symptoms associated with these conditions.
Social anxiety is common throughout the recovery community, partly due to fear of judgment. Horses don’t make any assumptions about people and they’re great listeners. Their strong, sturdy presence can be a source of comfort. As living creatures, they also serve as a tool for grounding, helping participants ward off triggers and stay in the moment.
Being around horses can bring joy to people who feel lonely or misunderstood. Animals are tuned into humans’ emotions and can be there for people who need them. They can also reflect emotions, helping people understand their state of mind to process their thoughts and feelings.
Mental health struggles are common reasons for relapse. Equine therapy can help people in recovery regulate their emotions, work towards a more positive mindset and prevent or navigate relapses.
The mental stress of living with and recovering from addiction can lead to physical symptoms that equine therapy may help people overcome. Common sensations people in recovery might feel include:
- Aching muscles
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Lack of energy
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Constipation and other digestive issues
- Change in sex drive
- Hot flashes
- Pins and needles
- Fast breathing
Mental and physical health are connected. Even after withdrawing from substances, the mental pressures of recovery may still lead to physical symptoms. As equine therapy helps people recover mentally, they’ll continue to do so physically as well.
Change Grow Live
Change Grow Live began in 1977 when Sussex magistrates noticed that people who served time in prison often re-offended and returned to prison after experiencing homelessness and scrutiny. The magistrates bought a home that offered accommodations and support to people leaving prison.
Expanding throughout the UK, the organization changed its name to Crime Reduction Initiatives before merging with the charity Sova in 2012. In 2016, the organization became Change, Grow, Live to reflect its goal of providing a holistic approach to aiding people in crisis. In 2017, they acquired Lifeline, expanding its service and outreach efforts.
Since those earliest beginnings, Change Grow Live has expanded to support anyone living with addiction, regardless of criminal history. It hopes to eliminate the stigma surrounding addiction and asking for help, allowing participants to reach their full potential.
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Equine Therapy for Addiction Recovery
Equine therapy is a global practice that can help treat physical and mental conditions, including the challenges that come with addiction recovery. Thanks to the therapeutic effect of horses, equine therapy programs can transform lives for the better.