This spring, a television series caught the attention of everyone I know. While the controversial show and its handling of the subject matter are considered too mature even for teen viewers (thus I am not recommending the series), it did bring issues of youth emotional and mental health into the spotlight. The first thing I want to say is that if you or someone you know is struggling GET HELP NOW. Click here for resources or find an adult you trust and TALK about what’s bothering you. Do it NOW.
For non-emergency situations, and just to improve overall mental health, professionals consider equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) to be worthwhile. The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl) is an international non-profit founded in 1969, and serves as “a global authority, resource and advocate for equine-assisted activities and therapies and the equines in this work that inspire and enrich the human spirit.” According to the PATH Intl. website:
“Whether it’s a five-year-old with Down syndrome, a 45-year-old recovering from a spinal cord injury, a senior citizen recovering from a stroke or a teenager struggling with depression, research shows that individuals of all ages who participate in EAAT can experience physical and emotional rewards. For individuals with emotional challenges, the unique relationship formed with the horse can lead to increased confidence, patience and self-esteem.” (emphasis added)
Julie Broadway, President of the American Horse Council, is also President of the PATH International Board of Trustees. I got to know Ms. Broadway while interning at the American Horse Council, and I asked her about PATH Intl. for this blog.
Holden Rafey (HR): How long have you been involved with PATH International, and why do you support equine-assisted therapy?
Julie Broadway (JB): I joined the board of PATH International in 2010 serving on the finance and marketing/development committees. I have served as President since November 2016. I’ve experienced and seen first-hand the healing power horses can provide to people. Regardless of your challenges, horses can teach us and make us better people.
HR: Have you witnessed the effect of equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT), particularly for addressing emotional or mental health issues?
JB: Yes, I’ve been fortunate to observe how EAAT has brought about changes in a child’s behavior and speech. “Jane” had a very difficult upbringing and she had withdrawn. EAAT opened many doors for her, teaching her trust, patience and ultimately opening her up to new experiences and communicating with others. I’ve seen the same with veterans suffering from PTSD.
HR: Why are horses a good therapeutic animal for humans?
JB: Human – Animal interaction is a very powerful thing – be they dogs, camels or horses. Personally I think horses are great because they are empathetic. I’ve seen a horse totally adjust their approach to accommodate for a small child who is anxious to an adult who is ready to tackle the world, or someone with physical challenges. In the case of metal health work they are especially relatable. Horses are prey animals (as opposed to dogs for instance that are predators). Therefore horses experience similar fears, heightened awareness and other vulnerabilities an EAAT participant may also be experiencing.
It’s easy to search for PATH Intl. Member Centers in Maryland
(Screenshot from http://www.pathintl.org/path-intl-centers/find-center)
PATH Intl.’s FIND A CENTER tool is an easy-to-use member program search that will help you identify facilities providing the services you might seek.
Another resource to consider is EAGALA: Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, a global association of mental health professionals and practitioners employing the EAGALA Model of equine-assisted psychotherapy, which is ground-based and does not involve riding. There are several videos describing the EAGALA Model here (just scroll down the page). According to the EAGALA website:
“Under the EAGALA Model, both a registered, credentialed Mental Health Professional and a certified Equine Specialist work together collaboratively at all times to assure clients get the therapeutic attention and support they need as they make life changes.”
EAGALA also has a FIND A PROGRAM tool where you can search for providers in your area.
Searching for EAGALA programs in Maryland is simple
(Screenshot from http://home.eagala.org/find)
Spending time around horses is valuable in so many ways, including benefits to your mental and emotional health.
ABOUT OUR BLOGGER:
My name is Holden Rafey, and I am honored to be serving as the Maryland Horse Council’s Youth Correspondent. As the MHC Youth Correspondent, I will be posting monthly to this blog about horse-related topics in the state of Maryland to give a youth perspective and share information of interest to MHC youth members and young readers. I live in Montgomery County and attend Walter Johnson High School, where I play softball and field hockey. My equestrian trainer is Melinda Cohen, and I ride at her barn, Dream Catcher Farm, in Frederick County. In addition to being the Youth Correspondent for the MHC, I am serving a third term on the Washington International Horse Show Junior Committee and have served as an intern for the American Horse Council.