Equitherapy is a way of treating people through the horse. Treat what? How? ‘Or’ What ? If you want to know more, this article takes stock of this amazing approach and explains the principles at work.
The origins of equitherapy: the story of Lis Hartel
At the source of an original approach, there are often one or more stories that are extraordinary. In equitherapy, it is customary to mention the history of Lis Hartel. Lis was born in 1921 in Denmark and very early in her childhood she began riding, her mother being an instructor at the Copenhagen Riding School. She was able to reach a high level and won her first national competitions around the age of 20. At 23, pregnant with her second child, she contracted polio. Her child is born healthy but she remains paralyzed. Doctors predict that she will be able to walk again with the help of a cane, but that she will never get back on her horse. After a while, the paralysis subsides and is limited to the lower part of her legs, below the knees.
Wishing to go back on horseback, she will then adapt her style and develop a new technique leading her to no longer use her legs and to control her horse by the weight of her body. She resumed competitions at the age of 26. 5 years later, she participated in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki in the dressage category and won a silver medal. She continued her sporting career with just as many good results since she was 7 times Danish dressage champion. Once retired, she gets involved in fundraising to finance research into the disease from which she suffered, but also to promote therapeutic riding. Today there is a Lis Hartel foundation in the Netherlands which helps people with disabilities to access horseback riding. All over the world, this great sportswoman remains a reference and an example for all disabled riders.
What is equitherapy?
Equitherapy has gradually established itself as a therapeutic discipline: in France, in 1986, the National Federation of Horse Therapy (FENTAC) was created. In 2005, the French Society of Equitherapy (SFE) was created. This structure opens the way for the recognition of a management of mental disorders by the use of the horse.
Equitherapy is a psycho-corporal care, aimed at reducing psychopathological, motor, cognitive, sensory and communicational symptoms. It is above all a therapeutic practice which requires knowledge in psychoanalysis, psychology, psychotherapy and psychomotor skills on the part of the therapist. The horse is a working support and the person who directs the sessions, a therapist trained in care, listening to the helping relationship.
Why integrate the horse into therapeutic care?
The horse is reputed to be a very sociable animal and whose sensitivity allows it to create proximity with human beings, to the point of qualifying it as “mirror of our emotions”, According to the expression of the educator Isabelle Claude. Riders who are experienced and who are close to their animals know that when they understand how their horse works, they generally understand their own functioning.
While the evocation of fears or anxieties may turn out to be abstract, they take shape, in a way, through the horse. The therapist thus guides the patients in their interactions with the horse to find concrete solutions to the various problems from which they suffer. Letting yourself be carried, lying on the back of a horse at a walk, causes a sway that can evoke the cradle in the mother’s arms. These moments, considered to be founders in psychoanalysis and with a strong power of reassurance, are then recreated thanks to the horse, in order to develop a positive context, favorable to the resolution of the patient’s problems. Restoring a secure bond of attachment is often at the heart of equitherapy.
What are equitherapy sessions?
Once he understands his patient’s problem, the equitherapist offers him exercises to stimulate sensations, emotions or speaking.
The sessions take place within the framework of a merry-go-round, a secure circular enclosure, usually dedicated to learning to ride, but also a box or a meadow.
While a session does not necessarily involve riding, it systematically includes the presence of the horse. It can consist of brushing the animal, walking it on a lead … and then getting the patient to talk about his feelings, his emotions, etc.
As with any conventional therapy, the frequency of sessions as well as the overall duration of the treatment vary according to the patients and their profile.
Who is affected by equitherapy?
This method is intended for children from the age of 2, adolescents and adults. It is not necessary to practice horseback riding. It is particularly suitable for people who are uncomfortable with the formal atmosphere of a consulting room. It is essential to present a medical certificate showing no contraindication for this type of treatment. Since it is not about riding, the contraindications are limited to the problems of acute scoliosis, spinal cord malformation, glass bone disease, epilepsy or surgical sequelae. Obviously, people with allergies are also excluded from this type of care.
Equitherapy is particularly indicated in cases of:
- physical or mental pathologies (autism, schizophrenia, etc.);
- psychological difficulties (depression, anxiety, lack of self-confidence, eating disorders, addiction, disorientation);
- communication problems and language disorders, especially in children.