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Equine Therapy and Everything Horses Blog

Here you will find information on what Equine Therapy is about, its benefits and other interesting stories and information on horses. I am also sharing some of my own stories and interactions with these beautiful and amazing animals. 




My Horse Story

My love of horses began when I was very young. Since we lived in the suburbs of Canton, Ohio and came from a blue collar family, struggling to make ends meet, we couldn't afford lessons let alone a horse.  But that didn't stop me from dreaming and finding horse experiences every place I could. I would go to the County Fairs or visit friends who had farms to get close to these amazing animals. I loved riding and just being around them. 

Finally, when I was 18 years old and working, I bought my first horse and named her Misty Sioux. She was 1/2 Arabian and 1/2 Quarter horse, beautiful and all mine. Little did I know I was really hers. I was in heaven! She was what we called a "green" horse because she wasn't trained to have a rider on her back yet and basically was a blank slate. So my story began with a horse who was three years old, untrained and full of energy. I had no experience in training a horse and only a little support from the farmer who's stall I was renting for her. I learned to lunge her by trial and error, first teaching her to stay on the end of the rope instead of following me back to the middle of the riding ring. This took a few weeks until she understood what it all meant. I found out that she could understand my voice commands so I taught her to walk, trot and canter this way. My next step with her was to get her used to having a saddle on her, so we practiced a few more weeks lunging with the saddle on. Next I put a halter with a bit in her mouth. She really didn't like this so this took about a month to get her used to it. I would walk beside her turning her left and right and also teaching her to stop. 

The final step was getting on her, which was a whole new experience for both of us. I have to give her so much credit because she didn't try to throw me off. The only problem I had was that she would move around as I tried to get on. So I would be hopping around with her reins in one hand, my foot in the stirrup and the other hand on the horn of the saddle as she danced around. Her other trick was "blowing her stomach up" by taking in air, so when I put the saddle on and went to cinch it up it felt snug until I went to get on. Then the saddle would slip because she relaxed her stomach which made everything lose. I laugh as I write this because it had to be a funny site to see! 

We practiced walking around the riding ring for months until I got the nerve to ride her in a big, open pasture. We walked, trotted and cantered over and over again, without incident, until one day at a full gallop she spooked and veered sharply to the right. I sailed out of the left side of the saddle and landed hard on the ground rolling head over heals. My first fall hurt but I knew I had to get right back on her or I would be too scared to ride again. So I did, with a few more falls until she and I became a team. I had to learn when to "give her her head" so she could maintain balance as we rode. I had to learn to trust her as she had learned to trust me. We went on lots of adventures, especially riding in the woods. The quietness and solitude, just me and Misty enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. 

So what did I learn from my experience to pass on to you? I learned how to be patient, how to trust, how to relax, that kindness works, how to be strong, be more confident and how to let go. I also learned that I had much to learn from my beautiful Misty Sioux. 

Sandy Piacente


Equine Therapy for PTSD Treatment

Equine-facilitated therapy could be a key treatment option for people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and new research underway at Columbia University, dubbed the Man O’ War Project, could help prove just how effective it is.

PTSD can affect anyone who has been through a traumatic experience, such as victims or witnesses of violence. It’s a common affliction of members of the military who have served in combat zones. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 14 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have some degree of PTSD, along with 10 to 12 percent of Gulf War veterans and a staggering 30 percent of Vietnam vets.

In an interview with NorthJersey.com, Dr. Yuval Neria, director of the Man O’ War Project, explained that horses are similar to people with PTSD in the way they interact with the world.

"Horses are very sensitive to stress and fear,” said Neria. A horse’s first instinct is to stay away from new people and things in order to protect himself from a possible attack. But ultimately, horses will figure out when a situation—or a person—is safe to approach.

This is similar to patients with PTSD, says Neria. "The patient is thinking about how to regain safety, how to guarantee safety.”


PTSD can cause a wide range of symptoms that can have a profound impact on veterans and others afflicted by it. According to the VA, symptoms include flashbacks and nightmares; emotional numbness; insomnia; relationship problems; sudden anger; and drug or alcohol abuse. While stress after a traumatic event is normal, the distinguishing characteristic of PTSD is that the symptoms don’t get better over time, and in fact may worsen.

The most common treatments for PTSD are talk therapy and medication. However, many patients with PTSD are resistant to traditional therapy and those who do begin treatment don’t always stick with it. If equine-assisted therapy can be utilized effectively, it could be a revolutionary option for some veterans.

The project’s study is being conducted at Bergen Equestrian Center in Leonia, New Jersey. The sessions are unmounted, and veterans work in groups to complete activities with their assigned horse under the guidance of mental health professionals and equine specialists. Through the exercises, participants "learn how their actions, intentions, expectations, and tone have an impact on their relationship with the horses (and ultimately with the people in their lives),” according to the Man O’ War Project’s website:

https://mowproject.org/



Equine Assisted Therapy

Equine therapy involves more than just riding the horse. In some sessions, a client might not even touch the horse at all. Often the therapist leading the session will set goals for the client to complete, such as leading the horse to a designated area or putting a halter on the horse. The client will complete the task to the best of their ability and then discuss the thought process, ideas and problem solving used to complete the task. Discussing what the client is doing at a given time allows them to improve language skills. Listening to the instructor helps improve the individuals ability to listen and follow directions, ask questions, etc. Not only is there communication between the handler and the instructor, but also between the handler and the horse. This skill becomes especially helpful for those who are struggling with anxiety as often times they are stuck in worry about the past, or catastrophic thinking about the future. This activity encourages a person to be present and focused on the task at hand.​

Equine Therapy and Everything Horses

An ongoing series of  Horse Stories and Equine Therapy

Equine Therapy Part 3


A list of equine therapy programs can be found with information on their individual websites on their specific program details

Equine therapy should always be performed by a certified Equine-Assisted therapist.

Many associations exist in order to provide certification or training in equine therapy. It has shown to be very effective with patients who manifest depression, attention-deficit, conduct disorders, dissociative disorders, anxiety, dementia, autism, and many other related disorders.

Equine Therapy Part 2


One example that is used often is when clients are just beginning a horse therapy program, the instructor will have the horse stand in the middle of the arena. The client is supposed to get the horse to move outside of a large circle without touching the horse at all. 

The lesson taught is that when others, be it family, friends, counselors or associates try and get us to do something, the best way is probably not yelling or by force.

Equine Therapy Part 1


Why use equine therapy?

Equine therapy has shown to have many positive benefits when correctly taught by certified therapists. Some of them include:

Confidence

Positive Self-Concept

Communication

Trust

Decreased Isolation

Self-Acceptance

Impulse Control

Social Skills

Equine Therapy usually includes instruction in horse care, grooming procedures, and basic equine skills.

SANDY'S HORSES


Arabina and Shorty Today - Feb 2018


Adopted three years ago and this is how they look today. Through care, good feed and lots of love my two senior horses are healthy and enjoying a relaxed life.

Dealing With Conflict


As you go along in life it's not about avoiding conflict, but learning how to deal with it. 

Shorty and I - At The Rescue Barn April 2015


When I first started working with Shorty he was 19 years old, with a permanent, swollen, ankle injury from racing, emaciated and with sores on him. He looked like he was giving up when I first noticed him in the field.