Throughout my life, I’ve always felt that animals are out there to help us. Whenever my daughter has a bad day at school with bullies, our cat “Mittens”, always goes over to see her as if to cheer her up. Then a friend of mine told me about his cancer diagnosis. Naturally we were all worried, but he found strength and rehabilitation in an unexpected place - with horses. It was then that I learned that animals are being employed over the world to help people overcome both physical and mental problems, ranging from cancer to difficulties reading aloud. Luckily, my friend has made a full recovery. It has taught me another reason we should all love and treasure our equine friends. The following is a summary of an article covering how horses can help cancer patients:
“[t]here is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
The Benefits of Horse Therapy
Humans have a long history of working with horses for fun, for transport, and for work. Interacting with horses and riding horses have the following physical benefits:
● Improving balance and coordination
● Rebuilding muscle strength
These are vital when a patient has spent a long time resting or in bed as a result of surgery and other treatments for their cancer. Any prolonged period of rest is likely to increase muscle wastage. However, there are even more psychological benefits than physiological ones. These include improvements to:
● Reduced anxiety
● Distraction from cancer treatment overall
● Feelings of accomplishment as they learn to ride
Riding and working with horses help provide a welcome distraction from the day to day battle against cancer. Horses have a calming influence which helps them to reduce stress levels and increase a love of life. Good feelings, happiness, and animal positivity are great factors in boosting the body’s ability to heal itself and overcome short and long term effects of both cancer and its treatments.
How Equine Therapy Works
There are a wide range of organizations providing equine therapy across the world,including the United States. These include Horse Power for Life, Dream Rider Equestrian Therapy, and Rocky Mountain Riding Therapy. Each organization caters toward both the physical and mental needs of cancer patients and also of survivors, including their families.
At the centers, patients, survivors, and families are able to interact with horses, help feed and groom them, and then ride them. It is not an ad hoc day trip or event as the centers organize structured programs. For example, Horse Power for Life has developed a 16 week horsemanship program designed for all ages and abilities. During this program, they develop new skills over time with dedicated support teams around them.
Each program includes a range of elements relating to horses as well as therapy elements. Some programs include musical sections to aid rehabilitation. In addition to cancer therapy, many of these centers and organizations also help people with other problems including disabilities, injuries, and depression.