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Horses Help the Healing at Missouri Equine Center

Clients at Equine Therapy Center in MissouriKids of all ages and genders are benefiting from an Equine Therapy program in the Ozarks.

"Our students are children that have anxiety or have had a death in their families or their parents are going through a divorce," said Gena Wenger, professional counselor for Nixa Public Schools and H.A.Y. (Horses Assisting Youth) Foundation board member.

"There are a lot of different reasons kids can be referred to this program. Some just need that outlet and need something to go to to get their mind off things and to help them with their social and emotional health.," Wenger explained.

The program is an eight week course that meets on Tuesday evenings. Each lesson is an hour long, clients spend half of the time in the arena working with horses, and the other half in a nearby classroom working on curriculum designed to develop language skills. The therapy program is a joint project between the H.A.Y. (Horses Assisting Youth) Foundation and Ozarks Equine Therapy Center.

"The HAY foundation began in 2012 because we saw a need for kids that were having social and emotional difficulties in the schools," said Amy Koenigsfield President of the H.A.Y. foundation.

"There were no therapy type of centers around that dealt with kids that were considered at risk.

Although there were a lot of therapy centers that work with kids with autism or with mental or physical handicaps this was a niche that needed to be filled," she explained.

Amy and her husband own the 18,000 square foot facility called Laurel Arena, and have donated the use of it for this program. Ozarks Equine Therapy works with them out of Laurel Arena while they search for a permanent home.

"Ozarks Equine Therapy center uses the EAGALA model for providing mental health treatment to children," said Marcia Brewer, Mental Health Counselor for Ozarks Equine Therapy Center.

"So instead of going in an office and talking to a counselor and sitting one on one and trying to verbalize it, this is a better alternative. Some children can't talk, some children won't talk, some children don't have the maturity or the understanding to put things into words, so here in an arena with a horse, incredible things happen," Brewer explained.

The program is based on referrals and is open to kids ages 4 through 17. The eight week sessions focus on identifying the root causes of certain actions or behaviors, then developing skills to better respond.

"Horses do a phenomenal job of mirroring what is going on with the client so that sets it up so our clients can actually see things and we create metaphor based on that they can see what is going on and relate that in a better way than through talk therapy," said Sarah Fuller, Founder of Ozarks Equine Therapy Center.

And so far for clients, the effects of this therapy program have lasted well beyond the eight week course.

"We do lots of referrals within the Nixa school district alone and by coming here, it really sparks a  hands on love for that horse and it brings a new found confidence in our students. That in itself has done wonders for their social emotional health," said Wenger.

More than a dozen students per night receive instructions through this program. The H.A.Y. Foundation covers the cost for the facility, insurance, and upkeep for the horses. There is currently a wait list for students who have been approved.

Click here for more information on the H.A.Y. Foundation.
Click here for more information on Ozarks Equine Therapy Center.