Rescued Horses Perfect Match for Equine Therapy Programs


EDITOR’S NOTE – Maryann Peachey-Warren is Director of Education for the Horse Harbor Foundation, Inc., in Washington State, one of the country’s oldest nonprofit equine sanctuaries that exclusively uses rescued horses in a formal equine assisted therapy program. Ms. Peachey-Warren has a BA Degree in Human Services, is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work at the University of Southern California and is a candidate for Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship. Horse Harbor Foundation is a fully accredited equine rescue sanctuary by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and it has offered equine assisted therapy to student members since 1994. 

****** Note from HfH: This article is being published for the first time on It is being presented in several parts as it goes into depth on how rescued horses are vital to equine assisted therapy. Habitat for Horses offers equine assisted therapy program with rescued horses at their new facility in South East Texas. Contact us at 409-935-0277 for more information. ~ HfH ******

By Maryann Peachey-Warren
Horse Harbor Foundation, Inc.
Poulsbo, WA. 

Many disabled individuals are discovering the benefits of equine assisted therapy. Those who participate in this activity can find a sense of independence, self-confidence, and well-being. The information generated by books, peer reviewed journals and individual testimony is generating evidence of the many physical, emotional and/or cognitive benefits of equine assisted therapy. In this discussion of the benefits from therapeutic riding, many aspects of animal therapy have been identified, described, analyzed, and generalized for reader understanding. The consideration from such an analysis is promising for validation of the positive effects on individuals with certain degrees of disability. The focus of this article is about individuals with Down’s syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Asperger’s Syndrome, Developmental Delay, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

Animals have long been used for therapeutic reasons to improve the lives of humans. Dogs are used to assist people with low vision or blindness. Cats and dogs have been brought into nursing homes to comfort the elderly and ailing with their unconditional love and adoration. Other pets once deemed unfit for adoption and awaiting euthanization at shelters have been redirected to prison inmates where they find new life and change the hearts of those caring for them. There is something about the relationships that develop between humans and animals, a bond is created and what follows from that special relationship is unconditional love, respect, and compassion. Most of us can recount a story about an animal that has touched our hearts beyond words.

In recent years another animal has made it onto the list for therapeutic uses, the horse, and a growing number of these have been rescued from neglect, abandonment, abuse or premature death at equine slaughter. Riding horses for therapeutic purposes has helped children and adults with a very wide range of disabilities, including Autism Spectrum Disorder, substance abuse, Multiple Sclerosis, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, amputation, developmental disorders, spinal cord injury, brain injury, visual and hearing impairment, learning disorders, emotional problems, anxiety and other behavioral issues.

Horseback riding improves muscle tone, balance, posture, motor coordination, concentration, self-confidence, and self-esteem all of which are critical to human growth and development. Sadly, educational, therapeutic, and recreational opportunities with horses for children, youth, and adults with mental, emotional, and physical disabilities are limited today, even though research has emphatically revealed its’ benefits of to such individuals. Equine Assisted Therapy or EAT and the growing field of Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL), which does not involve actual riding, provides an experience with these animals that is non-judgmental, affectionate, unconditionally loving, and provides opportunities for physical and emotional growth and development. Experience with these large animals promotes confidence and self-esteem while motivating kids to interact and get stronger.

This growing awareness of the benefits of EAT and EFL also present a tremendous opportunity for legitimate equine sanctuary operators around the country to not only contribute to another important need in society, but to expand their revenue base for actual horse rescue.

Our experience at Horse Harbor over the last 20 years has proven conclusively that many rescued horses, no matter what their prior circumstances, are excellent for this work and, interestingly, it is often the older horses that are harder to rehome that adapt to it most quickly. Horse Harbor is a lifelong sanctuary and only accepts at-risk horses with no other options for survival, so we evaluate every horse that arrives as a potential EAT mount, but other sanctuary operations might well discover that horses with a history of severe neglect and/or abuse respond beautifully to riders with disabilities. In other words, the unconditional exchange of love is therapy for the horse as well as the human.

POST DATE: 04/17/2014