Horse Therapy for Troubled Teenagers
When teens struggle with behavioral or mental health challenges, their actions are a cry for help. Yet because these teens lack the emotional maturity or development needed to properly express themselves, their responses often make bad situations worse.
This can result in an otherwise good kid ending up in a cycle of bad friends, disciplinary challenges, low self-esteem, and harmful habits. These behaviors then cause the teen to become alienated from the people in their lives who love them and want them to succeed.
It’s a frustrating, painful cycle to watch – but there is hope. Through Equine Relationship Therapy, teens can become empowered with self-respect, critical life skills that set them up for success, a strong work ethic and other positive and lasting traits.
What is Equine Relationship Therapy?
Equine Relationship Therapy (ERT) – an exclusive take on Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) – is a therapeutic approach that utilizes relationships with horses to enhance behavioral, relational, emotional, and spiritual growth.
What makes Equine Relationship Therapy so effective? Caring for horses provides teens with a sense of responsibility and freedom. There is an unspoken bond between humans and horses. Teens sense this and want to strengthen that bond.
But building a relationship with a companion horse takes time, patience, and discipline.
Simply having another creature to care about, unselfishly, lets struggling teens shift focus from themselves and develop responsibility for something (or someone) else. As they change how they see themselves in relationship to others; positive behaviors changes begin to occur. Teens are also challenged to examine their own self-perception
as they begin to build trust and relationship with their horse.
- Develop a desire to act unselfishly as they feed, brush, and care for their companion horse
- Feel relaxed and at peace as they ride their horse
- Experience a sense of accomplishment as they make progress in building a relationship with their companion horse
For these reasons, and more, equine therapy has long been used to give adolescents direction, purpose, and resilience against life’s challenges. In the case of teens who struggle to make good decisions and maintain positive relationships, equine therapy can be a godsend.
As far back as 600 B.C., equine therapy was used in ancient Greece to instill strong values in adolescents. Therapeutic Riding was introduced to the United States and Canada in 1960 with the formation of the Community Association of Riding of the Disabled (CARD). In the United States riding for the disabled developed as a form of recreation and as a means of motivation for education, as well as its therapeutic benefits.
At Shepherd’s Hill Academy, we continue this tradition as an important therapeutic component of our year-long residential program. Upon enrollment and based on their individual needs, your child has the privilege of choosing his or her own horse to bond with during a weekly Equine Relationship Therapy session.
Then, for the duration of their stay, your child participates in ERT activities facilitated by Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning O.K. Corral Series and Natural Lifemanship certified instructors and counselors.
What Are the Benefits of Equine Relationship Therapy?
Studies have indicated that equine therapy has been successful in helping students show marked improvements in the following areas:
- Problem Solving Skills like critical thinking, situational awareness, and discernment
- Leadership through self-regulation, integrity, patience, respect, and self-control
- Confidence, trustworthiness, planning ahead, and faith
- Setting healthy boundaries, anger management and stress tolerance, emotional awareness, and empathy
- Setting and Reaching Goals, personal and social responsibility, companionship and friendship, and self-sacrifice
…plus, many more. After learning safe and natural horsemanship, teens gain a sense of independence and the value of interpersonal relationships. It’s an experience that benefits every area of their lives.
What to Expect for ERT/EAP Activities at Shepherd’s Hill Academy
As part of a year-long program at Shepherd’s Hill Academy, students will participate in the Equine Relationship Therapy (ERT) component, among other evidence-based, holistic approaches to scientific therapeutic methods.
Equine Therapy takes place once per week, aiding your teen in healthy relationship building skills. During this program your teen will select a horse to work with for the duration of their time at Shepherds Hill Academy. They will work through a personalized journal to build skills and goals that will aid them in developing healthy relationship skills and coping strategies.
All equine program activities are facilitated by O.K. Corral Series and Natural Lifemanship trained/certified counselors and instructors to provide mental, physical, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual healing to individuals by harnessing the powerful connection between horses and people. Shepherd’s Hill Academy’s ERT Model includes 4 Stages of Progress your teen will experience as they navigate the exclusive student reflection notebook called Stable Eyes.
As students progress through the 4 Stages, they will encounter the following equine program activities. Every activity is designed to help each troubled teen with their individual therapeutic needs in dealing with addictions, disorders, other behavioral, emotional and relational issues:
- Maintenance, Care, and Grooming Horses
- Team Building Challenges
- Self-Expression by Utilizing Paint
- Family Restoration Activities
- Specialized Activities that Address Personal Needs
The Equine Therapy Program is a unique facet of Shepherd’s Hill Academy, integrating relational therapy with natural horsemanship lessons and instruction. As a student works through the tasks and goals of the Equine Therapy program, they find that they are also learning deep lessons about themselves, their families and their peers. Along the way, the program builds their relationship skills, allowing them to examine their own life and relationships with others.
See If Your Teen Can Benefit from Equine Therapy
If your teen is struggling and could benefit from Equine Relationship Therapy, contact Shepherd’s Hill Academy today. We’ll discuss your goals, your challenges, and the best way forward to bring healing and restoration to your family.
How Can I Get Involved and Help?
If you would like to support Shepherd’s Hill Academy’s Equine Therapy Program, there are ways for you to get involved, even if your child is not currently enrolled. Find Out How You Can Help.
Shepherd’s Hill Academy’s mission is to bring hope and healing to teens and families in crisis. You can help us support this mission through our Equine Therapy Program by donating to Shepherd’s Hill Academy.