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Equine Therapy for Alcoholism: Definition, Benefits, and Effectiveness

Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 05/12/2023

Equine therapy, also known as horse therapy or equine-assisted therapy, is a therapeutic approach that involves interactions between patients and horses. It has been used to treat a variety of mental health conditions, including alcoholism. Read on to learn more about Equine therapy for alcoholism and how it will help you or a loved one.

What is Equine Therapy?

Equine therapy is a form of experiential therapy that involves interactions between patients and horses. The therapy involves activities such as grooming, feeding, haltering, and leading a horse that is supervised by a mental health professional, often in collaboration with a horse professional. Both during the activity and after, the therapist can observe and interact with the client in order to identify behavior patterns and process thoughts and emotions.

What Types of Equine Therapy are Available for Alcoholism Treatment?

There are several different approaches to equine therapy, each with its own unique focus and methodology:

  1. Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy: In this form of therapy, the horse serves as a tool for emotional growth and learning. The therapist uses the patient’s interactions with the horse to help them gain insight into their behavior and emotions.
  2. Therapeutic Riding: This approach focuses on the physical aspects of riding, such as balance and coordination, but also incorporates elements of emotional and psychological therapy.
  3. Hippotherapy: In hippotherapy, the movement of the horse is used as a therapeutic tool to improve physical function. Although this approach is more commonly used for physical conditions, it can also have mental and emotional benefits.
  4. Equine-Facilitated Learning: This form of equine therapy focuses on developing skills such as problem-solving, communication, and teamwork through interactions with horses.

How Does Equine Therapy Help with Alcoholism?

Equine therapy offers several potential benefits for individuals in recovery from alcoholism:

  1. Emotional Awareness: Horses are highly sensitive to human emotions and can provide immediate feedback to the patient. This can help individuals become more aware of their emotions and how they affect others.
  2. Trust and Relationship Building: Establishing a bond with a horse can help individuals learn about trust and develop healthy relationship skills, which can be particularly beneficial for those whose relationships have been damaged by their alcoholism.
  3. Responsibility and Care: Caring for a horse can promote a sense of responsibility and purpose, which can be a powerful motivator in the recovery process.
  4. Physical Activity: Working with horses can also provide a physical outlet, which can help reduce stress and promote overall well-being.

What are the Benefits of Equine Therapy for Alcoholism?

  1. Increased Self-Awareness: Working with horses can help individuals become more aware of their emotions and behaviors, which is a crucial first step in the process of change.
  2. Improved Relationship Skills: Equine therapy can help individuals develop healthier relationship patterns, which can be particularly beneficial in the recovery process.
  3. Stress Reduction: The physical activity involved in horse care can help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
  4. Sense of Responsibility: Caring for a horse can foster a sense of responsibility and purpose, which can be a powerful motivator in recovery.

What Does an Equine Therapy Session for Alcoholism Look Like?

In an equine therapy session, patients participate in various activities with horses under the supervision of a trained therapist. These activities may include grooming, feeding, leading, or simply observing the horse. The therapist uses these interactions as a basis for discussion and reflection, helping the patient to identify and address emotional and behavioral patterns.

How Effective is Equine Therapy for Alcoholism?

While more research is needed, preliminary studies suggest that equine therapy can be a valuable tool in the treatment of alcoholism. A study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found that equine-assisted therapy could help improve mental health outcomes among individuals in treatment for substance use disorders.

However, as with any therapeutic approach, it’s important to note that equine therapy may not be suitable for everyone, and its effectiveness can vary depending on a variety of factors, including the individual’s comfort with animals, the quality of the therapy, and the specific nature of the individual’s alcoholism.

How Much Does Equine Therapy for Alcoholism Cost?

The cost of equine therapy can vary widely depending on factors such as the duration and frequency of sessions, the qualifications of the therapist, and the location of the program. Some insurance plans may cover equine therapy, but many do not, so it’s important to check with your insurance provider. Without insurance, it may cost upwards of $500 per session. It may also be factored into the price of inpatient alcohol rehab.

Equine Therapy as a Complementary Treatment for Alcoholism

Equine therapy is often used in conjunction with other forms of treatment for alcoholism, including psychotherapy, medication, and support groups. Offering a unique and engaging approach to therapy, it can help to enhance engagement in treatment and provide a valuable source of emotional and psychological support.

In conclusion, while more research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits and effectiveness of equine therapy for alcoholism, preliminary evidence suggests that it can be a valuable tool in the treatment process. By fostering emotional awareness, improving relationship skills, reducing stress, and promoting a sense of responsibility, equine therapy offers a unique and engaging approach to recovery.

What Other Treatments Are Available for Alcoholism?

Several treatment modalities are available for alcoholism. Below we list the most common alcoholism treatment options.


  • Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment
  • National Center for Equine Facilitated Therapy
  • American Psychological Association
  • The American Hippotherapy Association
  • International Association of Equine Therapy