A pilot project shows the mental health benefits of equine therapy

Increased levels of self-esteem, confidence and energy levels have been reported by those taking part in the Equine Assistance Services Project in Britain.
File photo by Ralph Seebeck

A recent collaboration between British mental health charity Mind in Bradford and the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) involved participants spending time with horses to assess the mental health benefits equine assistance services could achieve.

The six-week pilot project has been run by Mind in Bradford and the Cliff Hollins RDA Group in West Yorkshire who operate out of the Cliff Hollins Riding School. It was held in September and October with the help of RDA coaches and volunteers.

Six project participants, most of whom had no previous experience with horses or ponies, took part in activities from learning how to approach and handle a horse to aspects of their care such as grooming or picking feet.

All participants enjoyed the experience and found it an opportunity to immerse themselves in something new.

A Mind in Bradford client said: “Before I thought last summer I was in really bad shape with my anxiety and depression. I’ve always loved horses and it was good to meet people on the course who were understanding as they had similar difficulties. I enjoyed being with the horses and ponies, because they They don’t judge! I loved learning how to take care of them and enjoyed learning to ride properly, outdoors.”

The project was inspired by Andy Gray, RDA’s Regional Coordinator for Yorkshire and Cleveland. He has been a longtime advocate for equine-assisted activities, and approached Mind in Bradford with a proposal for the two charities to work together to enable individuals with mental health challenges to hold regular sessions at Cliff Hollins Riding School. “Working with a like-minded charity to support the participants’ mental health by connecting them to horses has been a very rewarding experience,” he said.

Working with horses as a form of therapy has gained interest from mental health professionals, and many participants in the more than 400 RDA groups nationwide are encouraged to participate in RDA sessions by occupational, physical, or mental therapists.

Research conducted among participants after completing the project found that many felt increased self-esteem, self-confidence and energy levels with 100% of the participants claiming to have enjoyed the activity.

Previous research by RDA entitled Horses, health and happiness He concluded that it is not just the participants who benefit from working with horses. The report surveyed more than 1,600 RDA volunteers who found that participation in local RDA groups provided opportunities to gain confidence and acquire new skills and knowledge. Nearly a quarter of RDA volunteers have a disability that affects their daily lives and find that volunteering can play an important role in supporting their mental health and well-being.

Evidence from the UK Census 2021 also shows the importance of projects such as Mindfulness in Bradford and the RDA collaboration at Cliff Hollins Riding School. The census found that about 4 in 10 (39%) adults with disabilities suffer from some form of depression. This was three times greater than that of non-disabled adults (13%).

Bradford’s director of Mind Services, Phil Woodward, said the sessions were a great success. “There has been a lot of positive feedback on how the staff at the stables have shown care and empathy towards both the customers who attend and the horses they look after.

“Two clients signed up to be volunteers and there was an increase in self-esteem and confidence around the horses,” he said.

Cliff Hollins Riding School, Racial Discrimination Act And the Mind in Bradford Plans to run another project later this year. Applications are open to all Bradford sane wellbeing clients.

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