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Horses and Human Health: Therapy horses help put traumas out to pasture

Horses and Human Health: Therapy horses help put traumas out to pasture

By Jim Haug

At a ranch-style retreat for families dealing with the death of a loved one, white poster-board signs with the words ‘anger,’ ‘guilt’ and other emotions written on them were attached to tires and traffic cones along a ‘path of grief.’

By themselves, the signs did not seem so provocative, but a woman burst into tears after completing the course.

Her companion horse named Rico helped her unpack some difficult emotions and put her grief out to pasture.

The horse “jumped through guilt, ran past anger, and stopped in front of the sign that said, ‘acceptance’ and literally pawed at the ground until the sign fell down and laid right in front of them. He was like, ‘We got this,’ ” said Matt Pearce, a licensed clinical social worker from Maitland who helped with Hearts & Hooves, a daylong program at the Artquest School of Art & Design in Ormond Beach for families from the BeginAgain Children’s Grief Center, Halifax Health Hospice.

Horses and art activities, such as decorating horseshoes with gemstones and painting messages to loved ones on horses with non-toxic paint, provided an emotional outlet.

As intuitive and social creatures, horses are becoming the work animals of therapy, providing support for those dealing with everything from anger to eating disorders to post-traumatic stress, according to therapists and psychologists.

There are different models of horse-related therapy with the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) model, for example, using horses as metaphors in learning exercises that do not involve horseback riding.

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