Equine assisted therapy is a unique method used to help people better understand themselves and the world in which they live. Each week here at New Haven, I have the pleasure to conduct an equine therapy group, with the help of our ranch manager. In these groups, life patterns are often played out right in the arena as the girls interact with the horses. The awareness and insight that the girls gain is powerful.
A few weeks ago, we had a particularly powerful equine group. We decided to play a game of soccer with the horses. The students and horses were divided into teams and the playing field was set up. The students had the task of holding onto the lead rope of a horse and having that horse move along with them while they chased after the ball. One of the horses that had been assigned to a student was actually a donkey named Darryl. The student who was teamed up with Darryl became very frustrated because Darryl was not willing to run around with her and chase the ball. He preferred to stand and watch everyone else run around. She eventually gave up and refused to work with Darryl. Another student in the group had been building a relationship with Darryl over a few months and the two had formed a good connection. This student asked to team up with Darryl since the first student had given up. This student didn’t try to drag Darryl around and force him to go after the soccer ball since obviously that technique had not worked. Instead, she spent some time simply walking side by side with Darryl. She led him down the soccer field and chose to stand in front of the goal with him. Darryl and the student then took on the position of goalie. As goalie, Darryl was very successful. He stood quietly in one spot and the opposing team was too nervous to try to make a goal with him standing there.
As we processed this experience, we talked about how Darryl’s weakness (his stubbornness) had become a strength for him when he was moved into the goalie position. This led to a great conversation about the idea of looking outside of the box and trying to see our weaknesses and struggles as life experiences that can teach us rather than barriers to our happiness. Along with this theme, girls drew the metaphor of their horses representing the issues that brought them to New Haven. We discussed how hard it is to go anywhere in life when one is always attached to their problems. Furthermore, during the game, a student had been accidently stepped on by a different student’s horse. This incident added to the metaphor as the students talked about how their own unhealthy behaviors often end up hurting others unintentionally, especially those who love them.
Many valuable lessons were taught during our equine soccer game that day. My hope is that all the students will have many experiences such as this at New Haven and that small seeds will be planted in their hearts. As a student goes through the change process and shifts from external to internal locus of control, she will begin to nurture these seeds and find reasons and motivation to choose healthier ways of living. For more information about how New Haven works with equine therapy, contact us at 888-317-3958 or visit our website at newhavenrtc.com.
By: Karolee Koller, LCSW