It is common to think that hippotherapy is designed and intended only for people with disabilities to meet their needs for support and reintegration into the social, but actually the horse can also mediate other types of activities as replacement or integrated therapies into a traditional psychotherapy, as it is especially effective as a cure for anxiety, nervous exhaustion, depression, eating disorders, and problems related to low self-esteem or relational.
The horse-therapist (and his management) is effective in dealing with all these aspects, and acts as an element of distraction.
Therefore, many psychological problems can be treated with the activities mediated by the horse that soothe a series of collateral problems (severe stress, insomnia, deep sadness, inability to live social relationships) resulting from psychological discomforts.
Specifically, the manual and practical activities of horse management help manage stress, increase self-awareness and improve self-esteem.
Furthermore, contact with nature and animals provides an extra opportunity to shift the patient’s attention from his obsessions to the needs of the horse, leading him to focus on something other than his own stereotypical reasoning and allowing him a respite from his problems.
Thus, the horse-therapist acquires the function of “diversion”, an element of distraction.
The animals, moreover, guarantee tenderness, affection, acceptance, absence of judgment.
One of the added values of hippotherapy compared to other forms of pet therapy is that it involves physical activity, contributing to the production of endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline… all substances that have beneficial effects on the person’s mood.
Therefore, the horse represents a therapeutic element both physically and psychologically, thus allowing both physical and tactile stimulation.
Usually the size of the horse instills fear during the first approach, but at the same time it has qualities that preside over the attachment process: warmth, softness and big eyes.
The very fact of having to take care of it, is gratifying and generates a sense of mutual need.
The relationship between man and horse implements certain factors: emotional outward investment, stimulation of verbal and non-verbal communication, quality in interpersonal relationships, re-evaluation of one’s role and abilities in the environment of belonging, balance between self-sufficiency and availability to the relationship of help, ability to respect the rules and social, athletic and working integration.
As already mentioned, from the psychological point of view the effects mainly concern: basic cognitive skills (reasoning and problem-solving), creativity, attention, memory, decision-making and self-management skills, self-esteem and positive self-image, sense of responsibility, activation of emotionality and rebalancing of the personality.
On an emotional level, the horse is the mirror of the emotions of those in front of him, reads his moods and perceives every detail, both positive and negative.
It is in fact able to grasp with extreme immediacy the emotion of those close to it thanks to the “low way” that is the circuit that leads emotions directly to the body, then to the action, without first being elaborated at the rational level, contrarily to the “high way” in which emotion passes through thought and to a cognitive analysis.
For this reason, the horse reacts very quickly to the behavior of those who relate to it, and often happens before the person realizes how it feels.
Observing and feeling the horse’s reaction towards us can only help us to recognize our moods, so this horse-mediated experience allows us to better recognize our emotions, which affect our way of interpreting reality by determining our act, giving us the opportunity to improve ourselves and our interpersonal relationships.
The therapeutic power of this animal is therefore in being able to move our rigidity, moving our inner world and allowing us to approach with greater clarity and immediacy to our feelings and behavioral reactions.
In this way, the horse provides us with a precious reflection for personal growth and pushes us to an improvement of knowing how to be rather than knowing how to do something that we are less accustomed to in our society, characterized above all by performance and results.
Learning to know oneself better, to communicate better and to know each other are skills that applied to our daily life undoubtedly favor a greater quality of life and relationship.
Dr. Maria Luisa Mazzetta
Art confirms what described by Dr. Maria Luisa Mazzetta, the innate importance between man and horse has always represented the love that unites man with animals.
The Horses since ancient times are the subject of many artists, Phidias (Athens 490 ca – 430 BC) with a bas-relief represents some steeds in one of the earliest depictions of a historical event of antiquity, in the marble frieze of the long Parthenon cell the frieze of the Procession of Athena.
The Impressionist artist Edgar Degas (Paris 1834-1917), a French painter who loves horses, expresses in his words and works the feeling of serenity typical of those who know how to observe nature and what surrounds it, in memory of this we have his words : “To produce good fruit it is necessary to put on a back, one stays there all the life, the arms extended, the open mouth, to assimilate what passes, what is around us, and to live”.
Degas in Paris attends the racetracks, and from here born the first studies and the first performances of horses at the races.
Degas manages to plot with his works the harmonic and agile movements of horses through fluid brushstrokes that portray them.
Giorgio de Chirico (Greece 1888- Rome 2978), the creator of metaphysical painting, opens the door to Surrealism.
In his “more mature” works we observe vibrant horses. He himself expresses, “I love animals because I consider them helpless beings …” and this passion is perfectly integrated with the close-ups that he often dedicates to these animals in his works. De Chirico uses a pictorial material technique and dreamlike with archaeological references.
The artist manages to dislocate the psychological position of art by internalising it until the unconscious and subjective state of the emotions.
Umberto Boccioni (Reggio Calabria 1882 – Sorte, Verona 1916).
He is the greatest representative of Futurism, where we meet the plastic and chromatic element in a perfect synthesis.
The first major work of this pictorial synthesis is in “The rising city” (1910 ca) painting that indicates the new stereotype of beauty ranging between dynamism and speed, while the impetuous horses become the symbol in the vigor of the evolution of the city that grows …
In Franz Marc (Munich 1880-Verdun 1916) the path that strongly marks his artistic personality comes from the encounter with post-impressionism and the Nabis.
Studies of animal anatomy are important for the artist.
Since 1906, his painting has taken part in the great natural flow, which follows the vital force and represents it in painting with the presence of horses.
For example, the work “Grandi cavalli azzurri” shows his chromatic pictorial minks, which acquire influences from orphism and from Futurism in transparency and lively dynamism.
The artist is able to show a crystallized, harmonious, magical environment, where the embrace of the vital force is evoked by the vibrating of enchanted lights.
In the end it is the “Boy who leads a horse” by Pablo Picasso (Malaga 1881-Mougins 1973) to tell the man’s passion for horses.
The work describes a special relationship between animals and man, dominated by peace perceptible in the friendly and complicit step “one next to the other”.
The serenity of walking in perfect rhythmic harmony with the trot step of the horse is visible in the boy.
The balance between the two subjects is also evident from the face of the horse facing the same direction of the boy’s face, it only changes the position of the animal’s gaze, facing the viewer, as if expressing the pleasure, the complicity between the man and animal.
Picasso in a simple walk … perfectly introduces the feeling that unites individuals, communicating with a silent language, universal and unique.
Dott.ssa Barbara Re