The best therapy occurs when two people share a connection that encourages honest dialogue and inspires them to open up about their issues. However, it is difficult for many young people to develop a strong connection with a therapist. Many of our young girls at Excelsior Youth Center struggle with serious trust issues that stem from years of abuse and neglect. In general, they fear and distrust other human beings, which can severely stagnate their progress in therapy. Fortunately, other bonds can be fostered to help our girls learn to trust and overcome their traumatic pasts – these bonds are with animals. Horses, in particular, have been key to recovery for many of our girls, thanks to Excelsior’s Equine Therapy program.
To start, the size and power of a horse requires those riding and grooming them to overcome fear and develop self-confidence. But the benefits of Equine Therapy go much further than this due to the deep, personal connection horses and humans can develop. Horses have a way of seeing right through us – they are so sensitive to the emotions of humans that they effectively mirror us. Their intense awareness of the energy we emit actually leads them to emit the same energy. In other words, horses feel what we feel. Often horses even detect emotional and physiological changes in us that we are not even aware of. Dr. Edward J. Cumella, from Remuda Ranch Treatment Center, comments that this “sensitivity to nonverbal communication assists patients in developing greater awareness of their own emotions and nonverbal cues”. Source Horses see our fear and feelings of inadequacy and sorrow, then feel them right alongside us. This connection is so personal and insightful that humans can develop deep bonds with horses that may be difficult to develop with other humans.
Equine Therapy and Excelsior girls
At Excelsior’s Equine Therapy program, the girls practice one-on-one riding without a saddle to enhance the sensory connection between themselves and animals. This stimulates the brain-body connection as the girls learn new physical, emotional and behavioral skills. Participating in specific equine-related activities teaches the girls important life skills such as assertiveness, responsibility, healthy boundaries, self-confidence and trust. The girls must assert themselves for control and safety, trust themselves and the trainers, and establish healthy boundaries that define the equine relationship. Due to the miraculous effects we have witnessed from Equine Therapy, Excelsior strives to make this program accessible to all of our eligible clients.
One inspiring story begins with a young girl who came to Excelsior so traumatized that she would not speak a word in therapy. For over a year, her therapist tried different techniques to gradually encourage dialogue, but nothing worked. The girl was so introverted, traumatized, and distrusting, she just sat silently. Finally, her therapist enrolled her in the Equine Therapy program. After only two sessions of Equine, she began talking about the horses in a therapy session. Gradually, the conversation shifted from her Equine experiences to her own emotional and traumatic experiences. Five short months after starting Equine Therapy, this young girl successfully completed all of her therapy goals and successfully discharged from Excelsior. This is just one story, but we’ve seen similar successes with many of our girls.
Horseback Miracles, Inc. : Equine-assisted Sensory-based Therapy Program
Excelsior Youth Center participates in the Equine Therapy Program at Horseback Miracles, Inc., at Perry Park Ranch. Owner and CEO, Terry Draper, wholeheartedly believes in the healing power of horses and has been helping young people overcome trauma this way for over 23 years.
Horseback Miracles uses an innovative methodology, Draper Sensory Therapy, to enhance participant’s ability to recognize barriers in thinking and replace them with more appropriate methods. This methodology is based on scientific principles of the brain-body connection coupled with a well-defined series of equine mounted activities. Through the coordination of rhythmic movements and intricate thought processes, participants’ stress levels decrease and neurochemicals balance out in the brain. Subsequently participant’s experience a calming effect which spurs self-confidence, rational thinking and feelings of creativity. In turn, a more flexible and resilient brain develops, allowing more rational and socially acceptable decisions to be made.
Additionally, this therapy allows young people to develop essential relationship-building skills. Uncovering their personal issues within the world of horses helps young people see their behaviors from a different perspective. This allows them to identify the results of their choices for themselves, rather than hearing what they should and shouldn’t do from someone else. Clients are then able to translate the qualities of their successful human/equine partnership into their human relationships.