The use of horses for therapeutic purposes dates back to ancient Greek literature, when Orbasis from Lydia documented the healing power of horseback riding in 600 BC. In 1946, equine therapy was introduced in Scandinavia after an outbreak of polio. This was largely due to the remarkable story of Lis Hartel, an award-winning dressage rider from Denmark who, despite her physical limitations due to polio, won a silver medal in the dressage Grand Prix at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. This event sparked a wave of interest in therapeutic horseback riding and soon spread to North America.
The French were the first to use horseback riding for therapeutic purposes in 1875, followed by the English who used it to treat wounded and disabled soldiers at Oxford Hospital. The United States began using horses for treatment in the 1960s. Records from the 17th century also show that equine therapy was prescribed for conditions such as gout, neurological disorders and depression. Today, equine therapy is widely used as a form of physical and mental health treatment.
The EAGALA model is one of the most popular approaches, which involves a team of professionals including a licensed mental health professional, a qualified equine specialist and horses working together with a client in a staged stadium.