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Could Wild Horses Be the Antidote to Our Nation's Mental Health Crisis?

- Written By Amanda Held

In recent years, our nation has grappled with two distinct yet surprisingly intertwined crises: the escalating mental health crisis and the controversial wild horse roundups by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). While these may seem unrelated at first glance, a deeper dive reveals a potential symbiotic solution that might be the antidote we’ve been looking for.


Mental Health Crisis by the Numbers


Mental health concerns have surged in recent years. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), as of 2022:

-1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness annually.

-1 in 25 U.S. adults live with a serious mental illness.

-Depression, the leading cause of disability worldwide, affects over 16 million American adults in a given year.

These figures are harrowing, indicating that mental health issues are not isolated incidents but a widespread concern that affects millions.

The BLM Wild Horse Crisis


Meanwhile, America's wild horses face a challenge of their own. The BLM, which is responsible for managing wild horse populations, often conducts roundups, citing overpopulation as a threat to the land and the horses themselves. However, these statistics reveal a stark reality:

-Tens of thousands of wild horses have been removed from their native territories.

-The holding facilities for these horses are often overcrowded, with the BLM spending millions annually to maintain them.

-Adoption rates, though encouraged, cannot keep pace with the roundup numbers.

So, where do these two crises intersect?

The Healing Potential of Horses: A Bond Beyond Words


Horses possess an innate ability to reflect the life inside of humans, making them perfect companions for therapeutic interventions. Equine-assisted therapy, which uses horses to help individuals cope with mental health issues, has garnered considerable attention in recent years. Here's why:

1. Trust Development: Interacting with such powerful creatures necessitates mutual respect, allowing individuals to cultivate trust, patience, and empathy.

2. Mastering Non-verbal Communication: Horses primarily rely on body language. Engaging with them can help individuals hone their emotional awareness, leading to improved human interactions.

3. Natural Stress Alleviation: Merely being in the presence of horses has been proven to lower cortisol levels, promoting relaxation and mindfulness.

4. Boosting Resilience: Facing the challenges of managing a horse enables individuals to confront personal fears, paving the way for increased self-assurance.

Historically, the symbiotic relationship between humans and horses has been celebrated in myriad ways, from folklore to therapeutic practices. This bond has therapeutic potential, as showcased by equine-assisted therapy's rise.

The Healing Power of Horses: Real-Life Stories


The age-old bond between humans and horses has proven therapeutic value. Recent events underscore the profound healing potential:

This past year, HOOVES, a veterans program from Northwest Ohio, adopted 4 wild horses from Sacramento, CA. These horses were subsequently gentled by veterans, resulting in healing that was described as "remarkable."

Sky Epperson of the Mustang Adoption Academy out of Haubstaut, Indiana, has initiated a program emphasizing Brain-Based Horsemanship, teaching individuals the nuanced process of gentling wild horses.

Bruce Anderson of Natures View, out of Camden, SC, who has decades of experience in equine-assisted healing, recently gentled his first wild horse. He described the experience as "life-changing."

Just recently, Lynn Thomas, CEO of Arenas for Change and Co-Founder of Horses for Mental Health, adopted her first wild mustang. This coincided with the launch of a groundbreaking program, an initiative by Lisa Diersen of EQUUS Film & Arts Fest and The Mustang Summit. The program draws inspiration from Lissane Fear's Mustang Discovery Ride, where she journeyed an impressive 5,000 miles across the country with her Mustangs.

A Synergistic Solution Awaits


Given the profound impact of equine therapy, an intriguing solution comes to the fore. Instead of isolating wild horses in holding facilities, what if we channeled resources to create therapeutic programs where these horses interact with individuals grappling with mental health issues?

This approach could yield dual benefits:

1. Purposeful Environments for Horses: By drastically reducing the number of horses in holding pens, they're granted purposeful lives, benefiting from human interaction.

2. A Natural Path to Healing: For many, traditional therapeutic interventions might feel inadequate. Equine therapy offers an alternative, holistic approach to mental well-being.

Addressing the intertwined challenges of mental health and wild horse management requires innovative thinking. By leveraging the therapeutic prowess of horses, we could provide a compassionate and effective remedy, healing both the human spirit and safeguarding these majestic creatures' future.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments!





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If you have access to a program that has approachable wild horses, or can provide pasture for your own, the intensity of the horse therapy with a former wild horse is incredible. Back in the 1980s I adopted a completely unbroken young stallion was my successful challenge. He even got to participate in my wedding by bringing the wedding party in on a wild-horse-drawn carriage!


I spent over a decade working with Velma B. "Wild Horse Annie" Johnston and Helen Reilly in helping preserve the wild horses on the open range, but it wasn't until I got my own did I fully appreciate the emotional, psychological, and physical contributions that they can provide.


Alan Kania

(author of Wild Horse Annie:…

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Well said Amanda! I believe you're absolutely right...and the powerful potential of these therapeutic programs for the mental health world is deep. There is such a stigma surrounding "therapy" for many people, but the THERAPEUTIC aspects of equine assisted learning can provide a safe space for someone suffering from PTSD and other trauma. The work that you're doing at HOOVES is one amazing example of that!

I remember you saying once that people think we're all just "sitting around brushing horses and feeling good" but this blog post shows the depth of thought and research that goes into creating that "safe space" with horses, especially Mustangs. People like you and Justin, Lisanne, Bruce and Sky are providing those paths t…


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