Last updated on January 4, 2024
Are There Actually Any Psychological Benefits of Having a Horse? Science Says YES!
There’s an old saying, “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.” But is that verifiably true? Horsemen know that there are physical benefits of having a horse, but have you ever thought of the mental benefits your horse is sharing with you? Anyone who has spent an extended amount of time around horses probably has at least one story of how their horse helped calm them down when upset or made them laugh through their tears. But science is now finding that there are actual psychological benefits of having a horse, not just anecdotes from the barn.
The famed Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about “hippotherapy” as early as 460 BC. Hippos is the ancient Greek word for horse, and therapy is the word for treatment. So it has long been known that working with or riding horses has a positive impact on humans. It wasn’t until the 1960s, however, that equine therapy started being standardized and used in the therapy world.  But you don’t have to be participating in equine therapy to get the benefits.
Emotional Benefits of Having a Horse
Simply owning horses helps humans to be better attuned to their emotions, and those around us. Horses have a nervous system and brain much like humans: they both have a flight, fight, or freeze response when faced with a potential threat. Humans and horses can hold trauma in the body but also can heal from those traumas in similar ways.  This makes a horse the perfect companion to work through past traumas and current emotional issues. They will reflect your energy and mental state, so the more worked up you are, the more worked up your horse will be (as any competitor can attest to). Being able to regulate YOUR emotions can also help to regulate your horse’s emotions, and vice versa.
Horses Build Confidence
Because horses have such clear boundaries, they can help us to set our own AND respect the boundaries of others. In Elizabeth Dampsey’s dissertation titled “The Effects Of Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy on Emotion Regulation”, she states, “Since boundary setting can be a struggle for many, working with horses provides an opportunity to practice sending clear messages both verbally and nonverbally, which in turn fosters awareness of one’s own patterns of communication. Furthermore, learning to clearly communicate with horses involves awareness of our thoughts, intentions/feelings, and the body language we use to convey what we are asking.” 
So just by communicating with our horses on a daily basis, learning their boundaries, and teaching them ours, we are building skills that can be used daily outside of the barn in the “real world.” This is especially helpful for children, or people who struggle with boundary setting due to self-esteem issues or trauma. Earning a horse’s trust and having them respond to what you ask them can build confidence and self-worth. Working cooperatively with such a large animal and achieving success in whatever task you are attempting is a huge boost to the ego. That on-top-of-the-world feeling is a huge benefit of having a horse, wouldn’t you agree?
Your Heart Benefits from Having a Horse Too
Horses have also been shown to reduce stress in their owners, something that horse people have known intuitively for a long time. Just the act of daily care routines, like grooming, can act like meditation for the human brain. Riding also can be meditative as you are only focusing on yourself and your horse’s body movements.  Bonding with a horse can reduce blood pressure, and also your heart rate as horses have an electromagnetic field radiating from their heart “which literally pulls down the heart rate of the anxious human through a process called synchronous co-regulation.” 
Old News to Horse People
So there it is: everything you have probably known in your heart for a while. But now it is scientifically proven: there is a HUGE benefit of having a horse, both physically and mentally. Not only do you get the strong core, fit legs, and increased stamina of riding horses, but just being around them can help reduce anxiety and stress. Not to mention building confidence and self-regulation abilities. That seems like a win-win situation! Tell us, what improvements have YOU seen in yourself or someone in your family that directly correlates to owning horses? We’d love to hear your story!
All content is for informational purposes only. Proudly written for Animal Element by the team at FaithHanan.com.
- Koca, Tuba Tulay and Hilmi Ataseven, “What is Hippotherapy? The Indications and Effectiveness of Hippotherapy.” Jan. 15, 2016. PubMed Central. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5175116/
- Choe, Kathleen, “Horses and Humans: A Unique Partnership in Therapy.” Nov. 22, 2023. Horses and Humans Research Foundation, https://www.horsesandhumans.org/new-blog-1/2023/11/22/horses-and-humans-a-unique-partnership-in-therapy-by-kathleen-choe
- Dampsey, Elizabeth, “The Effects of Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy on Emotion Regulation: Self-Efficacy and Self-Awareness as Potential Mediators.” 2017. HeartMath.org, https://www.heartmath.org/assets/uploads/2017/10/effect-of-equine-assisted-psychotherapy-on-emotion-regulation.pdf
- “Social and Mental Benefits of Horse Ownership.” May 6, 2015. HealthFitness Revolution, https://www.healthfitnessrevolution.com/social-mental-benefits-horse-ownership/
5. Choe, Kathleen, “Horses and Humans: A Unique Partnership in Therapy.” Nov. 22, 2023. Horses and Humans Research Foundation, https://www.horsesandhumans.org/new-blog-1/2023/11/22/horses-and-humans-a-unique-partnership-in-therapy-by-kathleen-choe