New horse therapy aims to help kids and teens with their mental health struggles

Some say it’s magic, some say it’s a bond, but there for sure is connection between a horse and a child. In this edition of You're Not Alone, we learn more.
Published: Sep. 29, 2023 at 12:15 PM EDT
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ST. JOHNS, Mich. (WILX) - Stress, burnout, anxiety and trauma are just some challenges children and teens face right here in Mid-Michigan.

But therapy isn’t one size fits all for mental health, so parents are turning to new ways for their kids to get support.

Mid-Michigan now has equine assisted learning and therapy program in St Johns—it’s called Equine Assisted Wellness of Mid-Michigan.

As part of our You’re Not Alone campaign, Studio 10′s Nicole Buchmann stopped by to see how the unique qualities of their ponies can help kids grow and heal on their mental health journey.

What’s done outside and inside of Equine Assisted Wellness of Mid-Michigan is more than magic. It’s a bond.

“Even if we are just we’re just spending time next to the horse walking ringside, we’re getting therapy from the horse,” said Pamela Allen, the Founder of Equine Coach and Executive Director of Equine Assisted Wellness of Mid-Michigan. “The horse’s heartbeat and our heartbeat will sync, and our anxiety will drop just being in the presence of them.”

Pamala has seen this sync between horses and humans firsthand. For her, it began when she was in 4-H and Pony Club as a child and then recently when she got a pony of their own—Ase.

“When I got him, he had lots of layers of things we had to work through. I was learning tons from him, but it was also very therapeutic for me.”

That’s when Pam truly reined in the similarity between working with humans with trauma and horses with trauma, and then the idea to provide local equine therapy kicked off.

“It was natural. I needed to do this.”

Pam saddled up and had full certification as an equine-assisted coach through the association and started programming for both youth and adults in need of mental health support this spring.

“Kids are struggling more than ever. COVID kept them out of social situations,” said Pamala. “They’re just struggling and so a lot of anxiety a lot of lack of self-confidence coming in.”

That’s why Pamula is seeing more local therapists and school counselors refer kids and teens to them.

“With therapists coordinating with us, we can figure out what you are working on, and we can make that a Hands-On lesson in the arena with the horse. "

Sessions start by picking out a pony they will work with throughout their therapy journey.

“Everybody’s different, and because horses are herd animals, they’re so sensitive out in nature and have to protect themselves, whereas dogs are therapeutic, but they’re the Predators,” Pamula explained. “So, we can read that with the horses the youth is working with. If they start to become anxious, we can see the horse react to that before the kiddo can even understand. Then we talk to them about what are you feeling in your body right now?”

No two equine therapy sessions are alike, making it so impactful. Pamala says that the obstacles the kids lead the horse through vary each session and are something that the kids really have to work on both internally and physically.

“If you’re feeling down or whatever they’re going to, they’re gonna pick up on that and maybe not be as drawn to you,” said Colleen Plowman, a board member and volunteer. “So in order to correct that, the kids have to change what you’re what you’re thinking, what your processes are in order for the horse to like gravitate towards you.”

Although it has only been a few months since this non-profit began with these programs, Pamula and Colleen have seen healing and growth in the kids, especially in younger girls’ mental health, that they know can be applied outside the arena.

“We had a girl who had to change her thinking and really accept the fact that this horse is going to be able to do it, but she will have to lead them,” said Colleen. “If she doesn’t think that they can do it, then they’re not going to be able to do it. And so helping her through that process, giving her encouragement, and then watching her encourage the horse. That’s really what it’s all about.”

To get involved in these sessions or to learn more about how you can support this growing non-profit, visit Equine Assisted Wellness of Mid-Michigan’s website.

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