Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy for Addiction
Healing with Horses
Jessica Shortridge, Licensed Addiction Counselor, P.A.T.H. Certified Instructor
Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.
Formed in 1969 to promote equine-assisted activities and therapies.
Rocky Mountain Treatment Center provides Equine Therapy.
Clients travel off-site to Eagle Mount, a picturesque indoor and outdoor equestrian facility, which has provided equine therapy for adults since 1990.
What is Equine Psychotherapy?
Equine Therapy is a holistic approach to substance abuse treatment that focuses on using horses to get to the root of what feeds addiction.
Horses provide a non-judgmental environment in which the individual can be honest and grow while building confidence without criticism.
It is normal for people struggling with addiction to blame others for their problems. This applies in particular to traditional therapy settings, where there is tendency for people to try and save face by minimizing their role in creating the problems they face. Equine Therapy, however, forces the individual to express their difficulties in an emotional and physical approach. A horse’s outsides match their insides and they can sense if a person is putting on a front. By unmasking emotions, horses force people to get honest about how they are feeling, so they can begin to heal.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy” – Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Overcome challenges in a non-threatening atmosphere
Build honesty and trust
Develop respect for self and others
Improve communication and social skills
Empathy towards others
Self-control and confidence
Responsibility and accountability
Problem solving and cooperation
Rocky Mountain Treatment Center is one of the few addiction treatment programs nationally and the only program in Montana to offer Equine Therapy. Our Equine Therapy Program is located at Eagle Mount of Great Falls, a beautiful indoor and outdoor equestrian facility nestled in the picturesque hills surrounding Great Falls.
Jessica Shortridge, a Licensed Addiction Counselor at Rocky Mountain Treatment Center, coordinates the Equine Therapy Program. She grew up working with horses on a ranch, and is a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH) certified instructor. She has a contagious passion for horses, and ensures all clients, no matter their previous experience with horses, feel safe, supported and engaged.
Equine therapy has proven highly effective with children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities. Recent studies suggest Equine Therapy is helpful in treating addiction. The evidence aligns with feedback from our clients that equine therapy was very helpful in pushing them to openly express their emotions and set healthy boundaries.
Horses primarily communicate non-verbally, and are open with their feelings and emotions. Horses also have the unusual ability to mirror a person’s internal emotional condition. By reflecting our clients’ emotional states, horses help them acknowledge and admit they are in emotional turmoil and powerless over their addiction. Clients learn about themselves by participating in direct, hands-on exercises, which raise awareness, help develop better interpersonal skills, such as maintaining healthy boundaries and recognizing emotions, and give them tools to improve previously damaged communication skills. Better communication skills build healthy relationships, healthy relationships promote healing, and healing leads to recovery.