Equine Therapy Program
The Equine Therapy Program at Newport News Behavioral Health Center was developed as an additional intervention and service to improve the overall functioning of residents. The program occurs 4 times per year, one per season. There is a Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter session that is 8 weeks long and the group intervention session is 2 hours long 1 time per week. The sessions take place at The Dream Catchers Riding Center in Toano, Virginia. The residents are transported by the Recreation Therapy Department. Sessions are facilitated by a Certified Equine Instructor and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker provided by Dream Catchers. Recreation Therapists provide assistance and feedback regarding residents’ progress at Newport News Behavioral Health Center.
Equine Therapy is used as a means to assist in healing many of the common social and behavioral disorders that exist in teens today. Equine Therapy provides an innovative milieu in which Therapist and the resident can identify and address a range of emotional and behavioral challenges. Teens who may struggle in school, have alcohol or substance abuse problems, or have social or mental disorders can greatly benefit from Equine Therapy programs. The goal of Equine Therapy is to help the resident develop needed skills and attributes, such as accountability, responsibility, self confidence, problem-solving skills, and self control. Additionally, residents can learn assertiveness, emotional awareness, empathy, stress tolerance, flexibility, impulse control, self actualization, independence, self-regard, social responsibility, and interpersonal relationships.
Many studies have been done to show the effects of building relationships with animals and horses. Troubled teens are typically in a state of aggression, defiance, or anger. Using horse therapy with these teens helps maintain a constant and healthy chemical balance. Not only do horses provide therapy as a result of chemical connection between the human and horse, they also provide troubled youth with an opportunity to learn how to control and work with animals. Learning how to work with horses will help them in their day-to-day lives as they deal and work with humans. Horses can oftentimes be stubborn, reluctant to follow orders, and have to learn how to get along with a team. Members of horse therapy groups will learn how to properly lead, groom, and take care of the animals. These teens may realize that they exhibit some of the exact same behaviors as the horse. By learning how to get along and work with the horse they will better understand their own emotions and body language. Horses cannot speak like humans, and careful attention must be placed on their body language. Horses are typically non-judgmental, have no perceived expectations or motives, and are highly effective at mirroring attitudes and behaviors of the human with whom they are working. They will let you know if they are nervous, relaxed, frustrated, excited, or dangerous by their body language. Learning how to recognize this language is key in learning how to train and become one with a horse. These realizations provide excellent basis for discussion and processing both during and after the equine therapy experience.