Suzette Bernadine Belgarde Reveals the Advantages of Using Horses for Therapy

Known as equine-assisted therapy, or simply equine therapy, horses have been employed for therapeutic purposes since ancient Greek times.

Suzette Bernadine Belgarde

"Therapeutic riding is documented in ancient Greek literature dating back to 600 BC," explains Suzette Bernadine Belgarde, an equestrian expert, and advocate of equine-assisted therapy from Faribault, Minnesota.

More recently, Belgarde goes on to explain that modern documentation on the topic begins in Europe in 1946. "Advances in equine therapy documented in Europe in the 1940s were the precursor to the practices we see and use today," she adds.

This European documentation pertains primarily to the use of horses in Scandinavia, used to help those who were suffering from post-polio syndrome.

Today, however, the practice is most commonly used to treat conditions such as anxiety, autism, genetic syndromes, and traumatic brain injuries. Whether in a physical, mental, or emotional context, equine-assisted therapy has also been witnessed to improve issues with self-esteem, self-control, self-awareness, empowerment, interpersonal relationships, relaxation, and general happiness, as well as concentration and focus.

"Horses," adds Belgarde, "have also been utilized to assist in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder, behavioral and communication issues, substance abuse, and eating disorders."

According to Belgarde, it's an entirely efficient and effective form of treatment. "It's drug-free, too," she adds, "which is one of the biggest benefits in my opinion."

This is an especially important point when taking into consideration today's prescription drug use. In the U.S. alone, during 2016 over 4.4 billion prescriptions were issued, up from the 3.95 billion prescriptions dispensed just seven years earlier. That's according to figures from Statista, the market research portal.

Equestrian expert Belgarde also highlights that horse-based therapy typically yields positive results in as little as two or three sessions.

Hippotherapy, as the practice is officially known, arrived in the U.S. from Europe in the 1960s and has now spread to over 40 countries globally.

In recent years, variants of equine-assisted therapy have arisen, including so-called equine-assisted coaching.

Designed and touted to help improve communication skills, establish an understanding of deeper trust, and to reinforce the importance of clearly defined goals, it may be undertaken in a professional or personal capacity.

Performed as a group, team, or on an individual basis, the practice is used predominantly by businesses looking to develop leadership skills within their organizations, or by high ranking executives wishing to improve themselves personally. "It's a rapidly growing market," points out Belgarde.

"Both equine-assisted therapy and equine-assisted coaching are wonderful processes," she adds, wrapping up, "and I would urge anyone interested in finding out more to pursue the options available to them locally."

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