Meet the Barn Bunch!

More about the Equestrian Program

Why do we have an Equestrian Program? +
Our Equestrian Program offers Equine-Assisted Therapy for the youth at New Directions. Today’s Equine-Assisted Therapy programs evolved from thousands of years of therapeutic methods involving horses. The earliest recorded mention of equine therapy is in the writings of Hippocrates, a Greek physician born in 460 BCE. He wrote about hippotherapy, derived from “hippos,” the Greek word for horse.

Equine Therapy, also known as Equine-Assisted Therapy, is an innovative, experiential approach that actively involves horses in mental health treatment. A powerful, evidence-based modality, Equine-Assisted Therapy is also referred to as equine therapy, horse therapy, therapeutic riding, and equestrian therapy. Through horse-based activities, participants gain confidence, build trust, and form healthier boundaries. Moreover, learning how to work with and take care of a horse, with the guidance of an equine therapist, helps participants practice empathy and develop authentic connections.

This form of therapy is particularly effective for teens as it allows them to address emotions and issues through direct experience and nonverbal communication. Consequently, it can be especially helpful for participants who are resistant to traditional therapy.
How does Equine-Assisted Therapy work? +
Horses have a unique sensitivity to people’s feelings. In addition, horses react to subtle changes in their environment. They can sense a rider’s emotional state, including states of depression or anxiety. Thus, the horse acts as a biofeedback mechanism, responding to and reflecting the rider's current state. Moreover, horses don’t judge based on their appearance or their diagnoses. As a result, participants feel accepted and unconditionally loved.
How does Equine-Assisted Therapy help the youth at New Directions? +
Equine-Assisted Therapy supports participants on multiple levels. Including:

- Greater Confidence and Self-Esteem
In therapy, participants learn to master the skills of working with horses. As a result, they have more confidence in their ability to take on new projects. Moreover, their motivation for taking on other recovery-related challenges increases.

- Better Communication Skills
Equine-Assisted Therapy teaches participants the importance of nonverbal communication. The horse’s reaction to their mood helps them see how their emotions and nonverbal cues affect those around them.

- Improved Self-Regulation
Because horses respond immediately to their actions, participants learn to control and modulate their behavior. Hence, they develop self-awareness and self-control.

- Sense of Trust
For participants who have experienced trauma, abuse, or abandonment, learning to trust the horse helps heal these wounds.

- More Realistic Self-Image
Interacting with horses gives teens a more realistic view of themselves in relationship to a much larger creature. For example, equine therapy can be helpful for participants diagnosed with eating disorders.

- Ability to Focus on Others
The act of grooming and caring for a horse helps participants focus on something outside their own struggles. Their attention is directed on the present moment and others’ needs rather than unhelpful rumination.

- Stronger Social Skills
A positive relationship with a horse builds a participant’s social skills. Hence, they are able to form and strengthen relationships with people.

- Feelings of Connection
Participants struggling with mental health or substance abuse often feel alone and isolated. A horse’s unconditional acceptance helps them feel a sense of connection with other living beings and with the larger world. Consequently, equine therapy supports the development of positive relationships with oneself, other people, and our animal friends.
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