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My Child has Social Anxiety. Can Equine Therapy help?

“Horses are finely attuned to their surroundings to ensure the wellness and safety of the collective. They do this in their own herd, and graciously extend the offer to humans who step into their space. ’ - Nina Leijerstam, Founder of Track Clinic

Just like many other mental health conditions, social anxiety is often a coping mechanism for what is happening beneath the surface; be that fear of rejection, sadness, guilt, grief, everyday stress, or early life trauma. It is these more subtle, often very deeply buried, low vibrational emotions that horses can instinctively sense making them prime candidates for helping young people work through their difficulties and find long-lasting relief.

Unlike many other forms of therapy, which rely heavily on one therapist to sense and guide the person through their recovery, Equine Therapy allows a team approach and leans on the horses’ innate ability to honour these deep emotions - both drawing attention to their presence (by repeating patterns of behaviour) and mirroring their eventual release (by shifting their energetic state and releasing via movements such as chewing, rolling, shaking, changing in demeanour, dropping to the ground, moving at pace)…to give just a snapshot of what can happen when working therapeutically with horses. Young people are able to rebuild trust in themselves and in others, often something that has been diminished during their time of difficulty.


Equine therapy provides an effective alternative to conventional talk therapy, which is often rejected by children and teens who have already distanced themselves socially and emotionally from other humans. A suggestion of spending time working through their difficulties with a small herd of therapy horses is often a more appealing proposition than sitting in a room face-to-face with a human therapist.


It is an understandable assumption that Equine Therapy works to ‘calm and soothe’ the person with social anxiety. There are even studies that reveal a positive change in heart rate, muscle tension and depth of breathing just by being in the presence of horses. This, however, only touches the surface of how Equine Therapy can help. For some people, the solution does not reside in a need to ‘calm and soothe’ but rather in a need to ‘reengage and be empowered’ or to ‘challenge and find their voice’.

At Track Clinic the needs of a person reveal themselves via interaction with the horses in clear and actionable ways. We are never trying to push away or override the anxiety or depression with other coping strategies rather we look towards the difficulties as a guide to what needs to be seen, heard and brought to conscious attention. In interaction with the horses - who are unrestricted by ropes and learned commands - they quickly begin to recognise parts of themselves that have retreated and patterns of behaviour that no longer serve them.


Horses provide honest, non-judgemental feedback and communication by mirroring what comes into their space. Sometimes they become metaphors for people or obstacles in their lives. Often simply being in their presence and reflecting on their reaction allows for deeper feelings to emerge. Horses have no expectation of how things ‘should be’ and are acting from a place of genuinely wanting to bring about harmony in their surroundings. If there is something difficult under the surface they will do their best to bring it to awareness. It's why horses have managed to survive as a species for over 50 million years!

The Equine Assisted sessions are initially and intentionally free from instruction and activities to allow the person to access their internal state with greater ease. It’s far easier to hide behind a requirement to ‘do, achieve a task’. Similarly, learning how to ride or handle horses is a great skill to learn but doesn’t scratch the surface of uncovering the person’s inner state and insight into how to move forward more positively.

After the first couple of sessions, and sometimes after 15 minutes into the first, the response of the horses and the reaction of the person make it clear where the issue and solution reside. As facilitators we can then, guided closely by the behaviour of the horses, suggest how movement and change can take place.

A parent of a recent attendee who’s 14-year-old daughter had been unable to leave her bedroom for several months, commented after the first three sessions at Track Clinic,

My daughter is making great progress. She gains a great deal from the sessions and her progress is definitely linked to starting equine therapy. She seems just a little more able to talk about her feelings and getting in the car and being outside with the horses has built her confidence and helped her to continue being outside her room at home. She seems very happy and chatty after her sessions and more engaged with her siblings.’


Another comment from a local school’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator following 6 EHCP funded sessions at Track Clinic arranged for a 8-year-old boy who had been excluded; ‘I’m pleased to say that he seems to be settling well into his new school, which is great for him and all the family.’


Equine Assisted Therapy & Coaching can be attended individually or booked in groups of 4-6 students. Formal reviews take place after completion of a 6-week block of sessions, with input from students, parents and teachers, to aid the integration of learnings back in the classroom and everyday life.


There is no riding involved and there is no need to have any interest in or experience of horses. Students are asked to wear suitable outdoor clothing and sturdy footwear. We work outdoors in all weathers (apart from very high winds) and can choose to shelter from rain, heat or cold when needed, just like the horses!


For students in receipt of an EHCP or EOTAS, it is possible to get sessions fully funded. Track Clinic works with Pastoral Leads, SENCOs and Key Workers to obtain the necessary approvals and consents. For more information and availability contact nina@trackclinic.co.uk







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