The majority of children arrive at Boys and Girls Country (BGC) with trauma from poverty, abuse, neglect, the loss of a close family member or witnessing violence in the home. Over half of our kids are in counseling. One of the important goals that we work on as an organization is to help our children overcome their past and learn coping skills.
We are blessed to have a partnership with the JoyRide Center allowing six of our kids to participate in equine therapy, a special form of therapy involving horses. Our kids love working with them, and it is beneficial in many ways.
“Equine therapy helps the kids learn how to be safe with horses, how to take care of the animals and form connections with them,” BJ Barksdale, the clinical director at BGC, said.
The eight-week program began with the horses each walking up to the kid whom they wanted to work with. All of the kids have created special bonds with their horses and look forward to working with them.
“I was having a hard day, but everything was okay once I arrived at JoyRide,” Emma said.
Each week, the kids are given different activities and tasks. For example, the kids went into the pastures and had to “capture their horse” (get the horse’s attention) without enticing them with any food. They had to accomplish the task with only the grooming tools that they learned how to use the previous week.
Equine therapy is about mutual care between a child and a horse. As the kids brushed their horses, they talked to them. Some really opened up about any stressors they were facing in their life. The moods of the kids changed as they brushed and bonded with their horses. Many of them appeared much calmer and more relaxed after this activity.
The next task was a team task of working together to halter one horse in each pasture and then walk the horse to the arena. The difficulty level of haltering the horses varied greatly, but at no point, did anyone give up. Instead, the kids listened to the advice from the instructors and calmly assisted one another.
By the end of the session, the mood had shifted from one of restlessness to relaxed and joyful. The kids came together to talk about their experience and discussed how it related to what was happening in their lives.
Some questions asked during the processing session included — what happens in life when you walk away from situations rather than facing them, what could be learned from this activity and how do you respond to God’s will. The kids also discussed how their horse’s personality is similar to their own.
“My horse is like me because she’s sensitive, and she’s also in survival mode,” Claire said.
These connections with the horses allow our kids to open up about themselves and share the struggles they are facing.
Equine therapy is wonderful for our kids, and we are so thankful that the JoyRide center partners with BGC, so that our kids can be a part of this therapeutic activity. We are also thankful to our clinical staff, BJ Barksdale and Naomi Austin, for helping to spearhead this activity and also for being at every session to help our kids process their emotions.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of our children.