Equine coaching is a mode of therapy that incorporates horses into the therapeutic process. Covenant House New Jersey recently began a partnership with The Bergen Equestrian Center to offer this treatment option to our young people. The benefits are establishing healthy boundaries and developing a sense of personal control, self-care, safety, and empowerment in interpersonal relationships. Our youth can gain awareness of self and others, boundaries, trust, relationships, emotional regulation, problem-solving, teamwork, and communication skills. They also become more aware of their responses to fear, stress, disappointment, pressure, and anger and develop new skills to self-regulate these responses.
Alison Iannarone, Clinical Supervisor at CHNJ, says, “Horse Coaching allows us the opportunity to creatively engage our young people while teaching them tangible skills that they can use in their future. We are so thankful to Breyer Horses and our supportive donors who enabled us to bring this exciting program to our kids and help them continue to heal.”
The successes so far have been remarkable!
A youth with significant mental health history who was guarded, not communicative, and had a flat affect started talking to staff, playing games with staff, and smiling after just one week of horse coaching.
A young man felt alone and isolated since coming to Covenant House because he was Spanish-speaking and couldn’t communicate with everyone. By the end of the session, he was singing to the horses in English.
One week the therapeutic theme was patience. One youth said she was able to take that theme and apply it to situations in work, noting that the “attitude she gave determined the attitude she got back” and stated that she “can do this” to “get the reaction she wants.”
Identifying themselves in the horses is one tool used in this therapy. One young lady liked a light brown horse better and stated she was more like the brown horse, a “leader.” She touched the horse’s cheek, and it jerked up – his energy changed. From that reaction, she learned that horses and people communicate with each other using body language. “Brown horse didn’t think we respected him,” she said. “We should be more respectful to other people’s approach.”
Another young person noticed that one of the horses didn’t like people touching him or coming into his personal space. He said that they were setting boundaries because they probably had a bad experience with people in their personal space before. He understood that it didn’t make them mean, but it made them know and understand their feelings.
Respect and boundaries with the horses resonated significantly with one youth, taking his time with one horse, in particular, to connect and make the horse feel comfortable. He got down on the same level as the horse and fed him, which helped make the horse comfortable and bond. He said he was not in a good mood initially, but being around the horses improved his overall attitude and feelings.
Our friends at the Breyer Horse Company are helping to sponsor this wonderful and unique program. Breyer also has selected Covenant House to represent their Horse of the Year, Hope. You can read more about the partnership here.