The Introductory Week
Upon entering the Equine Program for the first time, a student will be given the Shepherds Hill Equine Relationship Therapy (ERT) Notebook. This notebook will be the student’s guide to the program, giving them insight into the temperaments and “social cues” of the horse they will be working with.
During the first week of the ERT program the student will observe the program. They are also encouraged to begin referencing the Appendix of their notebook. Here they will find valuable information about the horse, their mannerisms, and how to work with their horse successfully during the program.
During their time at Shepherd’s Hill Academy, each student will work with an assigned horse. The horses are not chosen by the staff, but rather by the student.
When a student begins the ERT program, they are introduced to all the available horses. The student is then allowed to choose the horse that stands out to them. This horse will be “theirs” for the duration of their time at Shepherd’s Hill Academy.
A student is permitted to ask only if the horse is a boy or girl. The student is encouraged not to ask about the horse’s personality traits or temperament. They are advised to choose a horse based on how it makes them feel to be around it. This allows the student to unbiasedly select a horse that will be most beneficial to their healing and gives insights to their standards for boundaries and attachment. Some students will instead choose their horse based on their color, unique markings, or other physical features. The choice the student makes will tell our Equine Therapists even more about the personality of the child. In fact, some students even choose horses with similar attributes to themselves and do not even realize it!
Selecting a Horse as Therapy
The unique element of Equine therapy at Shepherd’s Hill Academy is that choosing a horse is part of the therapeutic process. When a student selects a horse, they are essentially judging the animal by first impressions. As the year progresses, they will learn whether their initial thoughts and feelings about the horse were correct, or if the horse turned out to have a different personality than expected.
Many students select a horse that has similar personality traits to themselves. They are often drawn to a horse that displays similar characteristics; whether aesthetically or personally. The student is often surprised to find that the horse they choose is either: a lot like them or a lot like someone in their life that they struggle to deal with. It’s almost as if they don’t choose the horse, but the horse chooses them!
Shepherd’s Hill Academy offers horses with a wide array of breeds and personalities for a student to select. Some horses are very timid and skittish, challenging their student to exhibit patience and empathy. Other horses are very dominant and self-aware, allowing their students to engage in lessons on dealing with frustrations and developing perseverance and trust. Regardless of the horse a student chooses, the horse is sure to teach them valuable and lifelong lessons throughout the entire year!
“During my time in ERT, my horse helped me see that my anxiety comes to surface even when i’m not realizing it. It was crazy and awesome to see that when i was anxious, my horse responded to it by being anxious as well. She taught me to really cool down and center myself, and to be more aware of the anxiety that was not outward, but inward. I learned that I couldn’t hide my emotions from my horse. She always knew what I was feeling. Because of ERT, I find it much easier to know my own emotions and when i’m feeling anxious so that I can take a deep breath and recenter myself.” – SHA Alumni