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Horses can make difference in addictions therapy

SASKATOON – Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina say horses can play a large role in treating First Nations youth who are struggling with drug addictions.

“The horse is a very spiritual and important part of some First Nations, and culture is important to healing, it’s foundational,” said Coleen Dell, the research chair in substance abuse at the University of Saskatchewan.

Dell and other experts from the two universities, as well as the University of Calgary, observed and interviewed girls who took part in an equine learning program at the White Buffalo Youth Inhalant Treatment Centre from 2010 to 2012.

The results were published in July.

“The youth, over the period of time that they were in the horse program, began to talk about the connections that they were making,” said Darlene Chalmers, a researcher and assistant professor at the University of Regina.

“Those connections require moving from being very inward to being more, coming out of themselves.”

White Buffalo is a rehabilitation centre for First Nations girls that fall between the ages of 12 and 17. It is located on the Sturgeon Lake First Nation, north of Prince Albert.

The centre partnered with Chartier Farms, which sits a few kilometers south of the First Nation, in 2006. The farm runs an equine learning program that instructors say teaches life lessons through exercises with its horses.

“The growth in the participants that come is amazing,” said Gayle Chartier, who owns and runs the farm with her husband.

“Confidence levels really start to rise, leadership starts to come forward, all the exercises have an objective so each week that they come, they’re working on a particular objective,” she added about the girls from White Buffalo who take part in the program.

The girls spend around an hour a week at the Chartier farm during their six month stint at White Buffalo.

“We have found it to be a success and an alternative for our youth because it takes the youth off site into a different learning environment,” said Ernset Sauve, the centre’s executive director.

The program benefitted Terra Gamble, a 15-year-old who lives with her grandmother on the Beardy’s & Okemasis Willow Cree First Nation, just minutes from Duck Lake.

“It was really my escape when I went there, and it’s like, because I love horses,” said Gamble, who recently returned from White Buffalo.

“If the horses weren’t there, I don’t know what I’d do,” she added.

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