Starting from Scratch: Equine-Assisted Therapy Helps New Green Chimneys Resident

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February 27, 2015

Imagine stepping into a barn, then into a large riding ring. The crispness of the winter air on your cheeks; all-encompassing quiet sporadically interrupted by peaceful movements made by the horse sharing the space with you, and an occasional chirp from birds that have managed to migrate inside.

NEWS_Equine-Assisted_Dixie_Feb2015.jpgThat’s how “Jerry” first met Dixie. Seven-year-old Jerry, a new Green Chimneys resident, is also new to animals. Or should we say, animals are new to him? Pets were never part of Jerry’s life at home and he hasn’t interacted much with them in other settings. Now living and attending school at Green Chimneys, a plethora of new experiences await him.

Connecting with people in an emotional way doesn’t come easy for Jerry. He struggles with relating to others and often misinterprets language, tone and non-verbal communication. In preparation for his arrival, and creating his treatment goals, Jerry’s social worker realized the potential for utilizing equine-assisted therapy (EAT) in the purest of forms and quickly began scheduling sessions at the horse barn.

“Instead of Jerry coming to sessions six or nine months from now, front-loaded with equine info that he will eventually learn in farm science class or from other activities at the farm, we decided to start EAT at his very beginning here, without all the tactile facts,” explains social worker Eliza Love. “The focus is truly on his personal experience and interactions solely with the horse.”

NEWS_Equine-Assisted_Staff-Mac_Feb2015.jpgEliza, in partnership with Green Chimneys Equine Program Coordinator Christina Russell, co-leads weekly EAT sessions with Jerry. Both are certified in the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association’s (EAGALA) treatment model. Sessions from the outside may appear unstructured but are actually carefully planned by the pair and provide a safe setting in which a child, with little instruction, directives or control, is able to interpret and experience the interaction all on his or her own. With the presence of a mental health professional, an equine specialist, and a horse, Jerry is able to form a connection with Dixie, and narrate that connection, without formal horsemanship knowledge or constant input. In terms of therapeutic applications at Green Chimneys, Eliza and Christina see the greatest benefit from EAT when used as a short-term tool in specific children’s overall treatment plans.

And in Jerry’s case, it’s already making a difference. During his first EAT session, Jerry shut down and even attempted to walk off. Five sessions later, Jerry looks forward to his one-on-one time with Dixie.  He is forming his own understanding of how to connect with another living thing and the role that he plays in his interactions with others – he can even be found grooming Dixie and giving her hugs. Thanks to Eliza, Christina and Dixie’s help, Jerry is able to know within his first month at Green Chimneys that success is possible and a sense of accomplishment exists for him here. We look forward to the day Jerry reaches his new (and self-assigned) goal: to ride a horse.

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