Equine Therapy for Refugees
Refugees go through a lot on their way to a new country. Their conflict-ridden home countries uproot them and thrust them into a whole new culture. Before, during and after migration, this trauma can have a lasting effect. Equine therapy for refugees is an innovative but highly effective new approach to mental health that is worth considering for any country with a high refugee population.

The Impact of War

Before would-be refugees even have the chance to flee their home countries, they often experience trauma. Seeing war and violence firsthand puts them at a higher risk than the general population for developing anxiety disorders, mood disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Resettlement in a new country can spur attachment disorders, and worsen anxiety and depression.

It can be hard to measure the prevalence of PTSD and similar disorders in refugees. This is largely because of communication barriers, which may prevent complete understanding or development of trust between refugees and mental health professionals. Estimates have determined that the percentage of refugees experiencing PTSD is anywhere between 4% and 86%.

Symptoms of PTSD can vary. But in general, the diagnostic criteria includes:

  • Flashbacks (unwanted, intrusive memories of traumatic event(s).
  • Severe emotional response to stimuli that is reminiscent of traumatic event(s).
  • Negative thoughts about oneself or the world.
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships.
  • Feelings of being sad, hopeless or numb.
  • Hypervigilance.

Many more symptoms exist and each person experiencing trauma will present differently. However, no matter what, it is clear that many, if not most, refugees leave their home countries with severe emotional damage.

The Healing Powers of Horses

Horses have been tools in therapy since the days of the Ancient Greeks. Hippocrates himself noted the therapeutic effects of interacting with horses. To this day, the goal of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is to foster a bond between humans and horses that is soothing and teaches skills such as emotional regulation and self-confidence.

Horses can perceive human emotion in a way other humans cannot. A horse can tell if its rider is anxious or sad and respond a certain way. This is not only a measurable occurrence, it can teach one how to regulate and control strong emotions. Increased self-confidence, improved emotional regulation, improved sense of trust and feelings of connection are all among the benefits of EAP.

How Equine Therapy Can Help Refugees

Equine therapy for refugees can help with the wide range of mental health issues that a refugee may face. Refugee populations struggle with trauma and mental anguish; self-harm, suicide attempts, aggression and issues with anxiety and depression are common.

EAP’s benefits show how horses can be an effective treatment for this trauma. Equine therapy for refugees is not just a sound idea in theory though, evidence has shown that it works. The United Pony Caravan provided weekly equine therapy to refugees in Greece and saw the effects right away. The horses act as a link between the refugee and the therapist; through the horse, the refugee experiences love, respect and confidence.

Equine therapy for refugees is a shelter in the storm of trauma. It provides an outlet for a myriad of emotions and fosters self-confidence and respect. Through equine therapy, refugees experiencing trauma can learn to self-regulate their emotions, and, bit by bit, begin to heal.

Maddey Bussmann
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and PTSDCommonly associated with combat veterans, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) impacts more of the global population than maybe expected. Recent studies have found a link between poverty and PTSD that reveals that socioeconomic status contributes to the majority of anxiety disorders.

How Poverty Contributes to PTSD

Mental disorders manifest in distinct ways for many people. However, the common underlying origin of Post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) remains a terrifying or traumatic life event. Living in poverty often means surviving daily in vulnerable conditions, and with financial instability that limits access to necessities such as food, shelter and water. The inability to pay for expenses starts to become emotionally and mentally taxing. Poverty acts as a traumatic experience in many people’s lives and even after graduating in class status, difficulty persists to enjoy day to day life.

Symptoms of PTSD can appear within months of the traumatic event and include:

  • Avoiding: Detaching from the traumatic event by avoiding triggers such as places, situations or people.
  • Reliving: Flashbacks and nightmares due to memories that force reliving the traumatic experience.
  • Increased Arousal: An increased blood pressure or heart rate accompanied by outbursts of anger and difficulties sleeping

Some people with PTSD may exhibit all these symptoms, while others exhibit just a few. The severity of PTSD also varies from person to person. PTSD can be broken down into subtypes such as:

  • Delayed on-set PTSD: This variation refers to when symptoms of the disorder develop many years after the traumatic event.
  • Complex PTSD: This type of PTSD usually surfaces after ongoing childhood physical or sexual abuse.
  • Birth Trauma: This type occurs after traumatic childbirth.

Women with PTSD

Research estimates that 284 million people globally suffer from anxiety disorders such as PTSD. About 63 percent of people that suffer from anxiety disorders are women. In addition, women living in poverty tend to face PTSD at higher levels than any other group within the general population. The relationship between poverty and PTSD embodies that of the domino effect. Poor women’s PTSD symptoms often worsen due to the fact that living in impoverished neighborhoods risk ongoing exposure to triggers of the traumatic incident. A study undertaken by the Social Cognitive Theory also reveals that most of the women living in poverty with PTSD share a history of domestic violence and lack social support.


It can feel nearly impossible to live a normal life with PTSD. Luckily, effective treatments exist that minimize the symptoms of the disorder. One of the best treatments for PTSD is Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy allows PTSD victims to talk about their cognitive behavioral process to a mental health professional to reduce and change reactions to triggers. Another important tool for managing PTSD is having a strong support system. The help of friends and family means everything during a mental health crisis. A support system of others that have suffered from PTSD also helps signify that a person is not alone in the experiences of the mental disorder. There are also organizations such as the PTSD Alliance, who work to educate and empower people with PTSD psychologically, economically and emotionally to thrive beyond environmental barriers. The organization currently has five international partners that provide programs to help improve the lives of those living in poverty with PTSD.

Overall, poverty and PTSD remain two prominent issues impacting people on a global scale. The connection between poverty and PTSD only further emphasizes that the more work that is done to reduce global poverty also diminishes the mental health crisis.

Nia Coleman
Photo: Wikimedia