Equine Therapy alternative healing practice lets humans and horse find healing

Char-Koosta News 

RONAN — A team made of two horses named Farrow and Mya and two mules named Willow and Lucky toured the reservation last week providing therapeutic services as a part of an alternative treatment initiative hosted by Tribal Health and Willow Canyon Counseling.

The equine therapy sessions were lead by Licensed Addiction Counselor Shaunda Albert who said the animals’ sensitive nature provided the therapeutic environment. “Horses are sensitive creatures especially to energies,” she said. “It’s therapeutic for clients because horses can act a mirror of their energy. I have had clients undergo deep self-reflections, sometimes in ways they aren’t aware of. It can get really intense.”

One of the first clients Albert’s horse Farrow treated was a visitor to her ranch. “Farrow kept putting his head on this man’s chest,” she’s said. “I thought he was being a pest but pretty soon the man was petting Farrow and seemed comfortable. Eventually he told me that his daughter had committed suicide and he never talked about it before. That’s when I knew Farrow was a therapy horse.” 

During the Ronan session, Albert led a group of 10 clients through three sessions, which required them to work with the animals. In the first session, clients were asked to build an obstacle course using pool noodles, stools, hula-hoops, and other items. The courses, represented obstacles each client identified in their own lives.

Albert then asked the clients to lead the animals through their obstacle course. “This exercise provides a physical demonstration for the clients to visualize the obstacles in their lives,” she said. “They need to develop a bond with the horse in order to lead them, so it also helps them reflect and visualize overcoming those obstacles.”

Equine Assisted Therapy has been practiced by cultures throughout the world. The Anxiety Treatment Center reports that the practice can be used to treat various emotional, behavioral, and mental health issues including ADD, anxiety, self-esteem, and impulse control. The secret is in the horse’s nature of emotional response. Working with the animal requires respect for boundaries and communication.

Albert said she recently conducted an equine therapy session for client’s suffering from substance abuse. “I worked with clients suffering from addiction and the horses slept for two days after that session,” she said. “They absorbed those energies. It was interesting to see what observations and responses the clients had to the horses. Everyone gets something different out of it.”

Albert said that she hopes to host more sessions in the future for Tribal Health. “I think it’s great that Tribal Health is looking into ways to expand its treatment services and provide alternatives for its clients,” she said. “Healing is a vast journey and there are many techniques and practices out there outside of the traditional models.”

For more information on Willow Canyon Counseling and addiction services call: (406) 370-3447.

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