Horses are wonderful creatures — not only are they kind-hearted and incredibly intelligent, but they can help us improve our mental health too. In this post, Katie Allen-Clarke from the equine experts at Horse and Country explains how these fantastic animals can help humans with their mental wellbeing.
If you’ve been struggling with your mental health recently, you’re not alone. According to the charity Mind, approximately one in four people will experience a mental health problem in the UK each year. The good news is that there are a number of ways we can improve our mental health and overall wellbeing, one of which is spending more time with horses.
Any horse lover no doubt knows just how great horse riding is for your physical health. But did you know that spending time with these majestic creatures can be beneficial for your mental health too? In fact, a study conducted by The British Horse Society found that horse riding can reduce symptoms of depression by an impressive 30%. The following are just a few of the main ways in which horses can help us with our wellbeing.
Encourages us to spend time in the great outdoors
One of the ways spending time with horses benefits our mental health is by encouraging us to get outside more. Whether it stems from social withdrawal or anxiety around leaving a safe space, it’s not uncommon for people living with mental health disorders to struggle to get outside. But getting out the house allows us to get our daily dose of vitamin D, which has been proven to be beneficial for people living with depression (PubMed). Plus, getting outside in the daylight helps the body regulate its circadian rhythm, which can help you develop a healthy sleep schedule to maintain good mental wellbeing (Very Well Health).
And if you have a horse, you need to make sure you get out come rain or shine. Whether it’s to simply feed and groom your horse, or go on a ride with them, getting outside with them will help you get that daily dose of vitamin D and allow you to develop a healthy sleeping schedule. If possible, try to get out to visit your horse in the mornings, as this is the best time to get outside when it comes to regulating circadian rhythm.
Improves our communication skills
We all know that being open and sharing our feelings with our friends and family is important for our mental health. However, this can be difficult at the best of times, but especially when experiencing a health issue. We may feel guilt or shame about our feelings, and avoid sharing in order to prevent loved ones from worrying.
However, spending time with horses teaches us just how important good communication skills are. It allows us to practice being assertive with the way we communicate, which in turn helps us to express our feelings and needs authoritatively. And as horses rely a lot on non-verbal communication, this helps us understand the importance of positive body language (Asheville Academy). This allows us to develop our nonverbal communication skills, which in turn can help us build strong and healthy relationships with our human(!) loved ones.
Gets our endorphins pumping
Looking after a horse can get pretty physical. From riding them regularly so they get enough exercise, to simply grooming them and mucking out their stable, it can be pretty strenuous work. However, even though you may sometimes find it tiring, this is actually beneficial for your mental health.
Any form of physical activity that gets the heart pumping triggers the body to release endorphins. These chemicals are both natural pain relievers and mood elevators, which can leave us feeling happier and less stressed than we were before exercising (Harvard Health Publishing). Plus, doing a more strenuous workout in the day, such as a long or demanding horse ride, can help us sleep better at night – which is particularly beneficial for people who struggle to sleep as a result of their mental health disorder.
Boosts our self-esteem
It’s common for people living with mental health disorders to struggle with their self-esteem, which can in turn make it even more difficult to get out of a negative mindset. But the good news is that spending time with horses can boost our self-esteem.
When working with a horse, you’re likely to come across a few small obstacles that you need to face together. When you overcome these issues you will get a confidence boost, and it will help you develop your problem-solving skills. And even if you fail at dealing with an issue, figuring out how to recover from a setback can be a confidence booster, and prepare you for the next time things don’t go to plan.
Plus, as we already know, working with a horse requires us to develop more assertive communication skills. Being able to get through to the horse and work with them successfully using an assertive tone allows us to become more confident in ourselves and our abilities.
Whether you’re going on a long horse ride or simply paying your horse a visit to feed and groom them, spending time with them can be a great way to improve your mental wellbeing. If you want to find out more about how horses can help to build individual wellbeing and positive mental health, or if you are interested in developing the skills to facilitate in this area, make sure to check out the services offered by Athena Herd Foundation.
Athena Herd Foundation provides important programmes for local vulnerable communities, as well as practitioner training through our externally accredited qualifications. The Athena Herd Foundation has provisionally met the Professional Standards Authority “public interest test” to hold an Accredited Register to cover registrants delivering this work.