Horses offer 'magnetic' calm for rehabilitation clients

·2-min read
Russell Freeman/AAP PHOTOS

In the hills north of Brisbane, a mental health and addiction treatment centre is home to a group of four-legged staff who can calm clients just by their presence.

The health benefits of animal therapy, alongside other treatment methods, for people suffering from issues like anxiety is well known.

Interactions between humans and animals have been linked to increased serotonin and oxytocin - also known as the love hormone - levels in the brain, and even lower blood pressure.

The most common therapy animals are dogs, but horses are also used to encourage trust, confidence and emotional regulation.

Marian Cartwright has worked as an equine-assisted psychotherapist and program manager at The Banyan private health and wellness centre for about 18 months.

Therapy clients don't ride the horses but engage in "on the ground" activities, with a specialist supervisor ensuring both the horse and client are in a safe environment.

"Usually, we just invite people to just spend time with the horses," Ms Cartwright said this week.

"They are very intuitive animals and they give us a lot of non-verbal messages, and they may respond to our presence and reflect aspects of ourselves."

The centre, which also takes in patients with video game and internet addictions such as online gambling, has been offering equine-assisted therapy since it opened seven years ago, The Banyans founder and chief executive Ruth Limkin said.

"It's such a powerful opportunity for people to not have to talk about what's going on ... (The horses can) provide a metaphor for everything they are going through in their life and (allow them to) process emotions," Ms Limkin said.

Equine-assisted therapy can aid in the treatment of anxiety, depression, bipolar and post-traumatic stress as well as trauma, substance misuse and eating disorders, Ms Cartwright said.

"When you get near a horse they have like a magnetic field, and by virtue of even being near them clients will report that they are feeling calm or really peaceful and sometimes they feel very emotional," she added.

The horses live on-site at The Banyans and clients are encouraged to give equine-assisted therapy a go along with other types of therapy to find a treatment that works best for them.

"We talk about (the horses) as part of our therapy team and guests also get to interact with them outside of therapy," Ms Limkin said.

Ms Cartwright said horse therapy had delivered a lot of positive outcomes.

"They really do bring out what's internal for people in a really safe way," she said.

Equine-assisted therapy "is quite positive in the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) space as well," she added.