The Equine Therapy Program is a unique facet of Shepherds Hill Academy, integrating relational therapy with basic 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.
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.
Choosing Their Horse
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 Shepherds 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 Shepherds 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!
Shepherds 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!