Hooves and Healing – Riding to Wellness through Equine Therapy

Publish Date: Wednesday July 3, 2024

Hooves and Healing – Riding to Wellness through Equine Therapy

Aidan Duncan and Rich Webster from the FCCT education team have been delivering a 12-week programme called Branching Out at Pittencrieff Park, Dunfermline. In the first of two blogs, Rich shares his enriching experience of equine therapy.

Branching Out is an innovative programme aimed at improving people’s overall wellbeing. This is done through spending time in nature and undertaking woodland-based activities.

We have formed collaborative relationships to deliver a broad range of opportunities to improve participants’ overall mental health. One such relationship is with The Big Hoof, a Scottish charity dedicated to improving people’s wellbeing through using horse therapy.

As Aidan says: “Numerous modern studies demonstrate that outdoor and greenspace activities can be an effective supplementary therapy for people with a range of mental and physical disorders. Mental health benefits include better ability to focus and enhanced cognitive capacity, as well as improved mood and self-esteem.”

The beginnings

In 2020, faced with ongoing struggles due to the pandemic – further heightened by losing a close friend to cystic fibrosis – Louis Dalton Hall set up The Big Hoof. After spending time with horses throughout his life, he came to realise their power to reduce stress levels and promote mindfulness.

Us humans are often rushing off to the next task on our never-ending to-do lists. When spending time with horses Louis reflects: “You learn to slow down and live your life through the eyes of the horse.”

Fast forward to May 2024: Louis and Kiki Ho – now The Big Hoof director of programmes after joining Louis on a long-distance ride across Europe – met myself, Aidan and our Branching Out participants in Pittencrieff Park. This was an opportunity for the participants to find out about horse therapy and its many benefits.

Uncanny ability

It is well documented that horses possess an uncanny ability to mirror human emotions. People are known to regulate their own feelings better and develop an emotional resilience when around horses. For people who have experienced trust issues, being around these animals allows them to grow in confidence and form genuine bonds with them.


The first visit, May 2024

Our group got hands-on by grooming and brushing the horses. These practices allow people to develop a social connection with the animals and other participants. A sense of belonging is created with their peers, often without them even being aware of it. From the minute the horses arrived with us, I saw real improvements in personal growth among the group.


The horses’ impact in just a couple of hours was remarkable, even for those who were wary of getting too close. It was lovely to be able to facilitate this session especially as it turned out to be such a big hit. There were smiles all round, and a feeling of real achievement for the group. None more so than for those who got on horseback for the first time – an experience they won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

Come back here soon for the second instalment of Rich’s blog Hooves and Healing, and hear what our participants thought.

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