Equine therapy: a new take on cancer treatment

Horses are being used to provide psychotherapy-based approaches to improve the lives of individuals suffering from depression, anxiety and PTSD, by using the compassion and responsiveness of the horses’ demeanour to provide steady, non-judgemental support over a number of sessions. (Courtesy photo)

By Jenny Holt


Here at La Prensa we’ve always taken an active interest in supporting cancer research and sufferers in San Antonio and across the globe.

From our Breast Cancer Awareness Month to recent research in genetic testing to personalize treatment for cancer patients, we’re committed to promoting awareness of a disease which afflicts an average of 1,042 Bexar County residents every year, tragically ending the lives of 184 people. In 2012, 14.1 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed across the globe, making this serious illness a worldwide problem that doesn’t seem set to go away any time soon.

The power of connection

In recent years, a new therapy for cancer survivors and sufferers that has promising results is beginning to gain traction: equine therapy. Horses have always had a special connection with humans, often seeming to pick up on emotional and cognitive cues that others of our species seem to miss. Sensitive, psychologically fragile and incredibly responsive to subtle emotional and physical shifts, horses provide us with a mirror and a conduit for self-comprehension and compassion.

The benefits

Equine therapy for mental and physical illness isn’t a new concept – indeed humans across the globe have been benefiting from this unique relationship for millennia. But scientific research is beginning to recognize the benefits for a wide range of conditions, both emotional and physical. Horses are being used to provide psychotherapy-based approaches to improve the lives of individuals suffering from depression, anxiety and PTSD, by using the compassion and responsiveness of the horses’ demeanour to provide steady, non-judgemental support over a number of sessions.

It’s also being used for physical therapy, as these powerful creatures require balance, physical dexterity, and body-confidence for proper communication and to establish a functional and safe relationship. The act of riding a horse is incredibly physically demanding. Creating a bond of mutual trust that leads to the rider being in control takes both inner and outer strength.

Equine therapy is also being used to develop the life skills of autism sufferers and the mentally disabled. It helps them to frame their difficulties in a different light and begin to have a better cognitive understanding of how the world functions, and how they can interact successfully.

A natural culmination

It’s no wonder, then, that horses are being used to help cancer patients, both current and recovered, to reclaim their self-esteem, boost their confidence and gradually regain physical fitness during and after rigorous medical treatment. Available across the United States in specialist centers geared towards offering aid to the suffering, teams of special equines and therapists are starting to radically improve the quality of life for people who have been devastated by this terrible illness.

Jenny Holt is a freelance writer and mother of two. She loves nothing more than getting away from it and taking her pet Labrador Bruce for long walks, something she can do a lot more now she’s left the corporate world behind.