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Using Horses to Improve Mental Health with Hopewell Ranch

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

Equine Assisted Therapy: The Story of Emma and Oliver

Oliver at Hopewell Ranch

Counseling has many different treatment approaches. One approach I enjoy using is equine-assisted therapy. Here is an example of a client's potential experience in this approach. Imagine you are the parent of a small, meek teenager named Emma. Emma struggles with self-esteem and anxiety issues. She loves animals and heard about equine therapy at HopeWell Ranch. After her initial meeting with myself and the equine specialist, we take Emma on a tour of the ranch so that she can meet all the horses. A horse, Oliver, makes eye contact and walks toward Emma during the tour. She states she is drawn to Oliver because "he is calling to me." Oliver is a giant black horse, and Emma looks tiny beside him. Since Oliver chose Emma and Emma chose Oliver, they are paired up together for the therapy sessions.

At first, Emma is nervous and unsure of how to connect with Oliver, but as she spends time with him, she begins to feel a sense of calm and connection. Oliver, a kind and gentle giant, is ready to teach Emma valuable lessons about self-esteem and expression. As Emma grooms and cares for Oliver, she realizes that she, too, is worthy of being loved and cared for, just like her horse. She notices the more time she spends grooming Oliver, the more she feels present. This grounding and mindfulness technique helps Emma with her racing thoughts by having her focus on one thing: taking care of Oliver.

Puzzle and Princess at HopeWell Ranch

As the weeks go by working with Oliver, Emma shares that in the past, when situations got hard, she would "numb out" and listen to music to avoid "the discomfort" and racing thoughts. With Oliver's help, Emma discovers that she is strong and capable of overcoming difficult situations. She faces many activities and challenges in her therapy sessions, such as leading the horse through obstacle courses, painting on the horse and dressing Oliver up with hats, feather boas, and sunglasses. This challenge helps her learn and feel it is okay to ask for help and support when needed. For the first time since she could remember, she feels like her voice matters and her life has meaning.

Emma's time with Oliver is transformative; she said she feels like a completely different person by the end of her therapy sessions. She had a higher sense of self-worth, and her anxiety was minimal and under control with her mindfulness skills. Emma is grateful for Oliver and the lessons that he has taught her. She considers volunteering at HopeWell ranch to help struggling people like she was before she participated in equine-assisted therapy and to visit her favorite kind and gentle giant, Oliver.

HopeWell Ranch also work with local school students participating in Project Aware. Project Aware is a program whose purpose is to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues and raise awareness about them.

Benefits of Equine-Assisted Therapy

I'm a counselor who loves nature and animals and strongly desires to help people improve their lives through hands-on activities. I enjoy having the opportunity to watch my clients interact with the horses. I get first-hand experience of how clients' demeanor would change from apprehensive and anxious to confident and expressive. I knew this was a powerful form of counseling that I wanted to use to help my clients change their lives. Below are some benefits.

Girl Bonding with Horse
  • Improved emotional regulation: Horse therapy can help individuals learn how to identify and manage their emotions more healthily.

  • Increased self-awareness: The interactions with horses can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

  • Improved social skills: Horse therapy can help individuals develop better communication and teamwork skills.

  • Increased physical activity: Horse therapy sessions often involve physical activity, such as grooming and leading the horse, which can improve overall physical fitness.

  • Reduced stress: Horse therapy can help reduce stress and anxiety by providing a sense of calm and grounding.

Why Hopewell Ranch

Hopewell Ranch is a beautiful ranch near Weidman, Michigan, in Isabella County. The peaceful setting and proximity to nature make Hopewell Ranch the perfect place for equine-assisted therapy. HopeWell Ranch utilizes the EAGALA method, offering equine-assisted services for children, adults, families, and veterans. The ranch has a variety of horses and other animals to work with, along with a team of experienced therapists and equine experts that guide the experience.

Veterans at HopeWell Ranch

HopeWell Ranch offers a variety of programs, including Unbridled Potential, which provides a horsemanship/mentoring program to children ages 8 to 15. This children's program is available to those with mental, emotional, mild physical, or spiritual concerns. They also offer a Veterans program called Project Solomon, designed to help military personnel suffering from PTSD. Check out the book Project Solomon that is associated with this program.

If you're interested in learning more about how you or someone you love can benefit from equine therapy, please reach out to HopeWell Ranch. Explore a safe environment of hope and healing for children, individuals, and families and where life transformations can occur. If you'd like to support HopeWell ranch, you can click HERE.

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