The workshop – hosted by Dovercourt and the Westboro Brainery – began with a short session of chair yoga. Participants were guided through peaceful mindfulness exercises; asked to reconnect with their breath and bring a closer focus to the sights, sounds, and feelings of the moment.
After a few minutes of restful breathing there was a break in the quiet:
“Now you’re thinking like a horse!”
It was Jen Steers, a local recreationist and fitness professional who is certified in equine therapy.
Steers, along with Ryan Theriault, a certified Equine Specialist from Tranquil Acres farm, were at Dovercourt on November 29 to host a free 90-minute workshop about Equine Assisted Therapy and Equine Assisted Learning.
Located in Kars, Tranquil Acres is the only facility specializing in this type of therapy. It’s an alternative to traditional “office based” therapy, intended for people with social and mental health needs such as ADD, ADHD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, autism, substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, loneliness, relationship issues and more.
The horses help teach clients about responsibility and respect, and provide a calming influence as well.
“Horses have keen senses, and awareness,” says Theriault. “They can tune into their environment in a way that humans cannot. They have a lot to teach us about being better humans.”
There are individual sessions as well as group sessions offered at Tranquil Acres, and that serve different needs. A “Girls Rule” workshop for girls between the ages of 11 and 15 teaches participants how to stand their ground, practice self-care, and know when to ask for help. Others are designed to boost self-confidence, find inner strength, and combat stress and loneliness.
The highlight of the session at Dovercourt was meeting the equine staff members. Rayne, the miniature horse and Cecil, the miniature donkey were both an instant hit with the crowd.
Westboro resident, Susan Wheatley, dropped by the session to learn more about the benefits of the program.
Wheatley’s son, Joel Attfield, a part-time staffer at Dovercourt, has had his own experiences with horses. He’s been doing therapeutic horseback riding for about 10 years.
Although the program Attfield attends is different (there’s no riding at Tranquil Acres, all the work is done on the ground), Wheatley attended the session because she wanted to learn more about using horses for therapeutic reasons.
“It intrigued me,” says Wheatley. “I want to understand horses better. I’ve become increasingly comfortable with horses and am trying to understand them. They certainly have their own personalities and they’re all different.”
She says her son enjoys his experience with horses, and she sees how helpful this kind of therapy can be for people.
“I think the benefits [of riding] are different, but psychologically there are certainly benefits.”