HORSES HELP

Jul 1, 2021

HORSES HELP

 

TWO LOCAL THERAPEUTIC HORSEMANSHIP BARNS OFFER EXCEPTIONAL EQUINE THERAPY

What is now called Equine Assisted Services (EAS) actually dates back to when horses were used for therapeutic riding during the Greek Empire. Hippocrates, known as the Father of Medicine, wrote around 400 B.C. that, “Riding in clean air strengthens body muscles and keeps them in good form”. And in more recent history, therapeutic horsemanship gained popularity in Scandinavia in response to a Polio outbreak. 

Today, there are thousands of therapeutic horsemanship centers around the world; approximately 800 in the United States that are certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, International (PATH, Intl.); including only 259 centers that hold the designation of PATH Accredited Center – based on compliance with the highest set of best practices in all facets of the organization, and; two of those premiere Accredited Centers – New Canaan Mounted Troop and Endeavor Therapeutic Horsemanship – are local!

EAS includes both recreational activities and clinical services. Recreational activities include instructing ground horsemanship and riding, for those with a wide variety of needs, and equine assisted learning involves adapting traditional classroom activities to the sensory rich learning environment of the barn. Clinical services include physical therapists, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, and equine assisted psychotherapy – all partnered with the horses, on ground or on horseback. 

 

NEW CANAAN MOUNTED TROOP 

New Canaan Mounted Troop (NCMT), located at 22 Carter Street in New Canaan, is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, founded in 1939, with the core mission of “…building leadership, responsibility and confidence in youth through sound horsemanship”. In 2012, NCMT began Super Troopers, a therapeutic program for  individuals, ages 4 and older, with a range of cognitive, emotional  and developmental disabilities, expanding the NCMT mission to include “…enriching the lives of individuals with special needs through equine-assisted activities”.

NCMT has 25 donated horses and its facilities include 30 indoor barn stalls, outdoor riding rings, and 9 paddocks. Their ‘Super Troopers’ program offers adaptive riding and equine care lessons taught by PATH Intl certified instructors. Programming involves 121 Super Troopers – which is slightly higher than the number of Troopers, and includes over 500 adaptive riding and equine care lessons a year! (For Troopers, NCMT offers beginner through advanced rider lessons and middle and high school Interscholastic Equestrian Association riding teams, and provides over 780 horsemanship group lessons annually.)

From Caroleigh Evarts, NCMT’s Therapeutic Program Director:

We have many chIldren and adult students in our adaptive riding and equine care programs at NCMT who, for various reasons, have great difficulty connecting with their families, friends, and community. Our instructors have witnessed time and again the power of the horse-and-human connection that serves as a conduit of communication to the world around them. The self-confidence and joy our students experience with our horses is a privilege to witness and be a part of. This is the best of what we do. It’s all about acceptance, inclusivity, and unconditional love.

Inspiration comes from the horses themselves, full of magic and grace, taking full advantage of a second chance at a happy life after they are donated to the program. And, with great meaning and potentially life-changing purpose, inspiration comes from each Super Trooper – who proudly learns the pride of caring for a horse, in a world where he or she is usually the one who needs help. It’s all about acceptance, inclusivity and unconditional love – and it works.

From NCMT Super Trooper mom, Judi Anders, who lives in New Canaan with her husband and four children:

More than a few times, my son, Will Anders, has arrived at Super Troopers in the throes of what I call a ‘grumpy day’. Will, now 20, has low-functioning Autism, is non-verbal and suffers medical issues that too often cause him discomfort. But no matter how tough the day has been, Will becomes a different child at the barn. Mounted Troop has just changed him. Will is not always the happiest guy, but he lights up when he is there. He’s developing a sense of purpose, and a connection with animals on an emotional level, that he hasn’t had with people because language gets in the way.

During his Super Trooper classes – which he has attended twice a week over the past four years – Will has learned to help take care of the horses and ponies that fill NCMT’s stalls. On a typical day, volunteers may help him build a relationship with the animals by grooming and stroking their soft coats, or subtly get him to exercise as he happily pushes a wheelbarrow full of hay from paddock to paddock to feed his four-legged friends. He just goes right into the stall and hugs them…and the horses hug him right back. It’s made us see him in a different light and feel hopeful about his future. NCMT has been so inspiring for Will, I’m convinced that he could have a happy life working on a farm when he is older.

From Super Trooper mom, Debbie Smith, who lives in New Canaan with her family:

My son, Blaine Smith, now 7 years old, is Autistic. Becoming a   Super Trooper at 4 years of age, for Blaine, was, simply put, one of the best calls I’ve ever made. The powerful benefits of the program at NCMT, has provided a sense of hope that anything is possible.

Our first conversation, back in 2018, with Caroleigh Evarts, was a lightbulb moment. It wasn’t just the expert knowledge she shared about the benefits of equine-assisted activities – it was the sincere interest she had to help Blaine and make a difference in his life. Three years later, we can’t imagine life without ‘Miss Caroleigh’ and all the wonderful volunteers and team members at NCMT – who have Blaine’s best interest at heart. They get as excited as we do when he’s conquered a new task and done something for the first time – like  brushing Spicy Pony, a sweet-natured mare, on both sides of her body. 

 

ENDEAVOR THERAPEUTIC HORSEMANSHIP

Endeavor, located at 556 Croton Lake Road in Bedford Corners, is a 501(c)(3) founded in 2014, which offers children and adults: Equine Assisted Learning, Residential Youth Horsemanship, Therapeutic Horsemanship, EAGALA Therapy with a special program for Veterans, and various clinical services, including Equine Assisted Therapy and Physical Therapy.

While the programs for physical therapy or therapeutic horsemanship look a lot different than the programs for residential youth, and likewise for veterans, Endeavor’s commitment to enriching, inspiring, and empowering all those that come on site stays consistent.

Endeavor’s therapeutic horsemanship, with PATH certified instructors, meets the unique needs of each rider. Even just saddling up the horse is an opportunity to work on fine motor skills, and riding involves following instruction, communication with the instructor and with the horse, a physical and aural connection with the horse, and developing a sense of self. 

From program parent, Amy Rosenberg:

Endeavor is an incredibly special place for our son, Alec, and for our family. Alec has Mild Diplegic Cerebral Palsy, which affects his legs and core muscles. He started riding therapeutically at 2 and ½ years old – before he could walk. Very soon after he started riding lessons, he was suddenly able to do things like lift his leg to get into the bathtub. Eventually he walked independently, and we consider his therapeutic riding as a very significant reason. 

Alec is 9 now, and he’s been doing adaptive riding. His human and equine friends at Endeavor are a big part of his sense of self in this world which unfortunately isn’t always accepting of difference. Alec has experienced bullying from some of his peers at school for not being as fast or as adept as them on the soccer field or running track. Riding and Endeavor provide a counterbalance. It is an activity that is Alec’s own, and that he takes a lot of pride in being accomplished at. He loves helping out at the farm in any way. Endeavor is an oasis where he is accepted and loved by the incredible staff and volunteers. We are grateful for Endeavor and for the Charlie Rose Scholarship that helps Alec continue to ride.

 

For residential youth, Endeavor partners with local residential facilities to support the efforts for positive youth development to the areas most vulnerable young men and women due a variety of factors including poverty, racism, mental health diagnosis, and histories of trauma, or because their home environments are not suitable for them, either because of the nature of their disability or because of abuse and neglect. At Endeavor, they work on developing empathy, growing comfortable with connection and attachment, and learning to read body signals; skills that are not only important for working with horses but that the youth will use with their families and each other. Staff at Endeavor’s partnering agencies report measurable and marked progress in emotion management, ability to self-soothe, positive response to change, and increased levels of engagement.

 

From Barbara Morris from Lincoln Hall Boys Haven: 

Lincoln Hall found a wonderful friend in Endeavor. Our youth have been going to Endeavor for a number of years, thanks to the generosity of Changing Leads. The Endeavor staff has been incredible with our Lincoln Hall youth. They seem to know exactly what our young men need, and our students respond so positively to each of them. Our relationship with Endeavor has been such a gift to Lincoln Hall. 

Most of our boys have never been around horses before getting to Endeavor, but they are eager to learn about the Endeavor horses, and the incredible bond that some of our youth form with the Endeavor horses is truly transformational. 

One Lincoln Hall student with a history of abuse had been struggling with behavioral and anger issues. He wanted to go to Endeavor, and he modified his negative behavior to earn the privilege of going. From the first moment this youth met ‘Pearl’, there was an incredible connection. He was so gentle with Pearl and, almost immediately, Pearl seemed to connect with him too. The young man started to focus on positive behavior at Lincoln Hall so that he could see Pearl every week. The connection helped this youth to know the magic of feeling safe while making an emotional connection…something he had never known before. 

Many of our Endeavor/Lincoln Hall youth return home to difficult circumstances. It’s amazing to hear from them, asking for a photo of ‘my horse’ whether it be Maple, Ford, Pearl, or any of the other horses our youth work with at Endeavor. This connection is one of the most valuable parts of the Endeavor Experience for our youth. To be able to make a caring, loving, respectful, positive, emotional connection with these amazing horses is the gift of a lifetime for many of our youth. They learn so much about communicating with and caring for the beautiful Endeavor horses. They are introduced to a world that they never knew existed, and they truly love it. Many of them carry this memory with them when they return home, and it often sustains them in difficult times.

The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) is an experiential equine assisted therapy that has been demonstrated to be particularly effective with those who have experienced trauma. Endeavor provides EAGALA for Veterans, with a mental health specialist and an equine specialist always present at each session, at no charge.

From U.S. Army Veteran participating from the PTSD unit at the VA Montrose

I’m a Veteran of 13 years of service, with 3 combat tours to Iraq. I was awarded 3 Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star of Valor for my actions during service. But when I returned to the U.S., I held away from people and tried to not get close to anyone or anything. 

Endeavor changed all that! When I was there dealing with the horses, I had to learn to be mindful, calm, steady, and smooth. I never got to learn the trauma each horse had gone through before getting to Endeavor, but it seemed like we understood each other’s pain and came to understand what makes each other tick. Working with Pearl, I learned to feel again. As I worked beside her I could feel her every move, every breath, and every gaze. …And I felt like she could see right into my very soul. I learned how pain locked us each up. The relationship helped me clear my mind. Endeavor helped me through the struggle of dealing with the trauma of combat.

I am truly grateful for Endeavor and your staff, and if there is anything I can ever do for you or your program, please let me know. You all are in my thoughts and I truly won’t forget about this. I believe this program can help anyone who it touches and is a fantastic tool for a Veteran’s recovery.