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Animal Assisted Services

Equine-assisted services (EAS) is a term used to refer to various services in which professionals incorporate horses and other equines to benefit people. Here at Affinity Ranch, we focus on the following areas of Equine-assisted services: Horsemanship, Therapy, and Learning. 

Animal Assisted Therapy

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Therapy is provided by licensed/certified medical provider working within their scope of practice in occupational therapy, physical therapy, recreational therapy and speech-language pathology. The therapist determines how equine interactions, equine movement or aspects of the equine environment may enhance the client’s individualized treatment plan with the goals of improving the client’s sensorimotor, cognitive, behavioral, or emotional function for improved health and wellness. 

HOW DOES ANIMAL-ASSISTED THERAPY WORK?
When someone is dealing with a serious medical or mental health condition, they face a significant amount of stress. That stress can hinder their healing. Animals bring comfort to people, and spending time with animals can make healing faster and easier.

Animal-assisted therapy allows a trained service or therapy animal to come to an appointment.  The animal will spend a set amount of time with a patient (usually around 15 minutes), who gets to pet the animal and ask the Clinician or Therapist questions. The presence of the animal provides a needed distraction and helps reduce stress for the patient, and this can speed up healing.

 

BENEFITS OF ANIMAL-ASSISTED THERAPY
Animal-assisted therapy has proven benefits based on modern scientific research. Researchers have found a direct connection between interacting with animals and enjoying positive health benefits. These animal therapy benefits include mental health, physical health and skill improvement.

 

1.          MENTAL HEALTH
If you have ever spent time petting a cuddly dog or cat and felt an immediate emotional boost, then you have experienced one of the mental health benefits of animal therapy. For most people, the presence of an animal prompts the body to release serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin. These hormones generate a relaxation and stress-reducing response, according to UCLA Health. This hormone release can lower symptoms of depression and sadness, helping support good mental health.

Releasing these “happy hormones” also helps lower anxiety, so people will relax during their treatment or therapy. They also experience less loneliness while in the hospital. The presence of an animal provides comfort and a needed distraction from an otherwise challenging time.

Some patients have mental health blocks that make therapy and treatment more difficult. Bringing in an animal can “break the ice” between a therapist and patient, and this can reduce that initial resistance to therapy. This reduction in resistance to therapy can increase the effectiveness of these programs.

 

2.        PHYSICAL HEALTH
While the mental health benefits of interacting with animals are well-known, many people are surprised to note that animal therapy positively impacts physical health. It can speed healing and reduce the effects of some health conditions. Here is a closer look at the research.

In a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Critical Care, researchers found that visits with therapy dogs improved cardiovascular health in heart patients, precipitating lowered blood pressure and lowered stress hormone levels. The American Heart Association has found that working with therapy animals improves the health of heart failure patients in the hospital.

Regular visits with therapy animals can reduce the amount of medication some people need to manage medical conditions. Anxious patients experience slowed breathing, and interaction with welcoming animals actually boosts the immune system as well. Some researchers have found an increase in salivatory immunoglobulin A, which indicates a healthy immune system function, after people spend time petting a dog for less than 20 minutes. The release of oxytocin impacts the immune system and increases the pain threshold, helping people heal more quickly.

3.        SKILLS IMPROVEMENT
A third benefit of animal-assisted therapy is improved skills in therapies of all types. In physical therapy that requires exercise that is sometimes uncomfortable, participants find themselves more motivated to participate in therapy after interacting with a pet. The increased pain threshold that comes with the oxytocin release can also motivate people to push harder in their therapy programs.

Children with neurological differences, such as autism, often perform better in their language and social therapies when they have an animal to interact with. The presence of an animal can create spontaneous communication in situations where a child might otherwise choose not to communicate. They often relate better to animals than humans, and therapists can incorporate the animal into the therapy session to improve communication and engagement. For children with anxiety and hyperactivity disorders, the animal can help calm or focus the child, so they will work hard in therapy sessions.

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