"If you are not a horse person, it might be hard to understand why some people love their horses so much," writes HuffPost blogger, bestselling author and relationship expert Margaret Paul, Ph.D. "There is something about a horse's energy that creates a powerful shift in me. Whenever I'm at all tense, I have only to hug Stryder and I can feel my whole system coming into alignment. His heartbeat slows my heartbeat until the stress completely leaves my body. His soft eyes bring me into the present moment and I can barely contain the love I feel."
While this kind of experience is far from universal, there's a lot to recommend spending time with horses. For the people who love them, time riding and caring for these animals is full of natural, organic interactions and a deep sense of fulfillment.
Luckily, you don't have to be a horse owner to spend time with them and reap the accompanying benefits. Horse stables nationwide often accept grounds volunteers enthusiastically, and as well as offer riding lessons and trail rides -- and not all of these opportunities are restricted to rural areas. In fact, you just might be surprised by the unexpected places where quality time with horses is an option.
Here are 8 ways horses can help us truly thrive each day.
They can help us find common ground.
When spending time with horses -- from brushing their manes to guiding them along wooded trails -- we naturally sense a connectivity and closeness to them that, turns out, is rooted in science as well as our intuition.
“There are striking similarities between horses and people,” Dede Beasley, M.Ed., LPC, an equine therapist at The Ranch, told Elements of Behavioral Health. “Like people, horses are social beings whose herd dynamics are remarkably similar to the family system. As a sophisticated herd animal, horses immediately begin building relationships with people as members of their herd.”
They can help keep us calm.
Pets have the incredible ability to reduce our stress and boost our sense of Zen by simply looking at us with those beautiful eyes -- and that power isn't limited to just dogs and cats. One of the many psychological benefits of spending time with horses is the tranquil nature they encourage within us. A Washington State University study suggests that teenagers especially are impacted by a horse's presence -- frequent time in the pasture makes them less likely to suffer from stress.
They can help us learn.
A pioneering 2013 study from the University of Kentucky discovered that spending time with horses can help people develop a sense of empathy as well as enhance their social and leadership skills. The small group of nurses from UK Chandler Hospital who participated in the study noted the importance of self-awareness and non-verbal communication during their time in the stables.
"If horses can increase our ability to understand ourselves and others better, then the healthcare industry is a perfect place for studies like these," study project manager Lissa Pohl said in a statement. "When nurses and doctors benefit from collaborating with horses then ultimately their patients also benefit."
They can keep us healthy.
Research suggest that equine therapy, a method of integrating horse-related activities and their environment to assist people suffering from a variety of health problems, can promote physical, occupational, and emotional growth. A study commissioned by the British Horse Society in 2011 confirmed that regular horse riding and horse riding-related activities like mucking out stalls counts as moderately intense exercise and can help keep a person healthy. Additional research associates equine therapy with lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduced stress, and fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.
They can help relieve symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
While spending time with horses can provide physical and mental benefits to people suffering from a variety of illnesses and conditions, those who struggle with Alzheimer's disease find their time with these majestic creatures especially therapeutic. The disease is mainly associated with memory loss, but patients also find their personalities changing as the condition worsens, often leading them to feel more moody and withdrawn from others. Equine therapy seems to help them find a sense of calm and ease the frustration that comes along with living with Alzheimer's. A new study from Ohio State University researchers found that such an experience helps lift patients' mood and reduce incidents of negative behavior.
They can be our best therapists.
Equine therapy activities, including everything from grooming and feeding to walking and riding, can substantially improve psychological health -- particularly in people who don't feel comfortable with the more traditional verbal therapy methods. Alongside a licensed therapist and horse professional, people can find relief for behavioral issues, attention deficit disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders and abuse issues, to name a few.
"The horse is the perfect mirror, they are very emotional beings; we're only starting to realise how intelligent they are," Gabrielle Gardner, a therapy counselor of Shine For Life, told The Guardian. The benefits of working with horses are also being increasingly recognized by therapists who work with autistic children.
They can help us live the present.
In an open clinical trial published in 2007 by the Journal of Human-Animal Studies, researchers explored the potential effectiveness of equine-assisted experiential therapy. Afterwards participants reported feeling more oriented in the present, better able to life more fully in the here-and-now, less burned by regrets, guilt and resentments, less focused on fears related to the future, more independent and more self supportive.
They inspire a sense of wonder in all of us.
"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." - Winston Churchill
Horses have played a prominent role in mythology, inspired countless books and stories, and served as some of the most beloved family members of people across the globe. Many argue that there is no better example of both gentleness and power in nature, a combination that instantly leave us feeling lighter in their presence and free to explore the world we live in. Science aside, there's no denying this magical and moving quality they possess.