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Horses and Mental Health

The term 'mental health' covers psychological, emotional and social well-being and affects how we think, feel and act. so is a key part of staying healthy in life. Mental health is a topic that is more important than ever right now due to the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis.

So many horse owners have spoken out about how their horse has helped their mental wellbeing over the years and more so than ever throughout the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. This is one of the key areas that the Relay aims to promote in order to break the silence about mental health and stop it from being a 'taboo' subject.

"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man"
Winston S Churchill

This famous quote by Winston Churchill has often been used to explain the phenomenon of how horses really are good for people to be around. This is why, over the years, horses are more and more often being used to benefit physical and mental health in humans. In fact, the phenomenon of using horses as therapy can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks with Hippocrates being documented as writing about the physical and emotional benefits of horseback riding. Not only is it the interaction with the horse itself and their intuitive and sensitive nature but getting out in the fresh air and being physically active has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety and improve our mood. 

You only need to do one quick search of the internet search to provide yourself with numerous websites, charities and studies talking about this subject. The benefits of horses to humans on both their physical and mental health has been proven time and time again which is why using horses as therapy is becoming a popular means of rehabilitation and is being offered at an increasing number of locations around the UK, and indeed the world.

Numerous studies have been carried out about the benefits of horses on physical and mental health with one research study published by the British Horse Society concluding that horse riding stimulated many positive psychological feelings, reducing depression by 30% as well as lowering the chance of dementia by 30%.

Have a look at our 'real life stories' page to read about how horses have helped some of our Relay participants.

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Proven results from our supported charities

Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) use horses to benefit the lives of 25,000 disabled children and adults. RDA provides fun activities like riding and carriage driving to provide therapy, fitness, skills development and opportunities for achievement across almost 500 centres throughout the UK.

RDA is an inclusive and diverse organisation, welcoming clients with physical and learning disabilities and autism, and there are no age restrictions.

Research shows that horse riding with RDA delivers physical benefits, boosts confidence, improves communication skills and helps to build relationships. They know their activities support their clients’ education and learning, and that having the opportunity to compete improves confidence in daily life. 

The latest facts and figures from RDA's research suggest that 68% of participants improve communication, 76% experience more enjoyment, 77% show greater confidence, 76% experience physical improvement and 82% improve their ability to build relationships.

To find out more about Riding for the Disabled, please visit their website

Giving both horses and young people a second chance
Another of our supported charities, HorseWorld Trust have run their Discovery programmes for the last 12 years, using their rescued horses to support young people struggling with mainstream education or excluded from school, often due to behavioural issues. Horseworld are an alternative learning provider registered with the local authority. In the right environment, some horses have an amazing ability to bond with people and positively influence their behaviour. Both the horses and young people have often shared similar experiences which enables a special connection. The young people benefit from improved life-skills such as communication, relationship building and emotional control, they have a positive experience, learn to problem solve and gain confidence – the Discovery programme aims to prepare them for employment and a second chance in life. 

A great example of how well the Discovery programme works is the story of Chloe Whitcombe. If it weren't for horses, Chloe thinks she might not be with us today. The 23-year-old joined the Discovery programme at HorseWorld in the autumn of 2019, having attempted to take her own life. She had always loved animals, especially horses, so when they offered her a place on the course she agreed. She didn't realise how big an opportunity it would be for her but thought that spending time with horses might help her. Chloe started the course and this winter when the charity were applying for apprentices, she applied and was successful. She is now working at Horseworld full-time and says that this is the first time she's had a job where she looks forward to going to work. "If I hadn't had it, this lockdown I'd just be sitting in my house, feeling bad. It would have been awful; just being able to go out for one walk when you have mental health issues, or in general, is really hard, but this means I go out, I'm sociable, and I'm being productive for the first time" says Chloe.

From the start Chloe liked the way she could be herself with the horses; that she did not have to "put a face on" and pretend she was happy, and that talking to a horse can be easier than talking to a person.

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The staff on the Discovery courses agree that often young people may not have spoken to another person in months, but within a couple of sessions they will talk to a horse. There is often a bond of empathy to make the connection as most of the horses who take part in the programme have  been rescued from bad situations that strike a chord with some of the participants.


To find out more about HorseWorld and their Discovery programme, please visit their website

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