Equine Therapy for The Elderly

By Jae Rauhut:

Horse Help Both Young and Old at Zuma's
Zuma's Horse Help Both Young and Old

Equine therapy involves the use of horses in a treatment plan for various mental, emotional and physical health issues for children, adults and seniors. Licensed professionals oversee equine therapy programs. Equine therapy encompasses a broad category of treatments including equine-assisted activity and therapy (EAAT), equine-facilitated psychotherapy (EFP) and hippotherapy. Equine therapy has the potential to improve certain conditions that the elderly often face, such as cognitive dysfunctions, mental illness, depression, anxiety and impaired motor function.


  1. Early History
    • People have recognized the therapeutic benefits of the horse since 460 B.C. when Hippocrates shared his thoughts on the healthy pace of the horse. There are references throughout history about the physical and emotional benefits of riding. In 1875, the French neurologist, Chassaignac, studied the therapeutic effect of riding a horse and found that the riding action helped his patients’ balance, muscle tone and emotional condition. From this, he concluded that riding a horse would benefit paraplegics and patients with other neurological orders.

    Modern Equine Therapy
    • In 1918, physiotherapist Olive Sands allowed Oxford Hospital in Great Britain to use her horses in an experiment involving animal therapy with war veterans. The results were considered successful. During the 1952 Olympic games, Liz Hartel, a paralyzed dressage rider, won a Silver Medal and inspired the world to take notice of therapeutic riding and to establish therapeutic riding programs.

    Equine Therapy and Seniors
    • The medical community considers pet therapy a valid way to improve the mental, emotional and physical health of the elderly. This acceptance, combined with the growing body of knowledge about the positive results of equine therapy, has led to the development of several equine therapy programs at senior care locations. For example, the Equine Activities Program in Deerings Nursing and Rehabilitation in Odessa, Texas reports dramatic results of their program. Administrators say seniors in the program have improved walking and balance, speech function, and mental and emotional states.

    Equine Therapy and Mental Health
    • Equine-assisted psychotherapy is effective in helping the elderly who suffer from depression, feelings of isolation, anxiety and other psychological issues. Society and Animals, a journal of human and animal studies, published the results of an April 2007 study, title “The Effectiveness of Equine-Assisted Experiential Therapy: Results of an Open Clinical Trial” that investigated the effect of equine-assisted psychotherapy on patients with mental health issues. The study found that equine therapy improved the psychological condition of the participants, even in a six-month follow-up. The article documents that the patients in the study were, “(a) more oriented in the present; (b) better able to live more fully in the here-and-now; (c) less burdened by regrets, guilt, and resentments; (d) less focused on fears related to the future; (e) more independent; and (f ) more self supportive.”

    Miniature Horses for Equine Therapy
    • Not all senior care centers have the space or finances to accommodate an equine-therapy program. However, altruistic individuals are finding creative ways to bring the healing power of horses to those in need. A CBC News story reports that miniature horses are being used to visit seniors, care homes for adults and children with special needs in Canada. Mary Gallant, an equine therapist, is behind the program to bring miniature horses to various centers, where they provide residents with physical and mental therapy. The miniature horses appear to have a positive effect on the people they visit and help to elevate their spirits, according to the report.

    Zuma’s Rescue Ranch

Zuma’s Rescue Ranch, located in Littleton Colorado provides a place for both the very young and the very  old to find a place to get the most out of life. From Equine Assisted Therapy Programs to Old Fashion BBQ and Hay Rides Zuma’s provides a great place to gather and have a good time. If you are interested in a place for the entire family to find something to feel good about, join the family at Zuma’s. Get involved, Have Fun and Give Back~


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