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New Insights Into Therapeutic Riding

Harnessing the Power of Equine Assisted CounselingHorses are increasingly becoming acknowledged as being valuable resources for healing or rehabilitating children and adults with mental or physical challenges.   With both demand and the number of therapeutic horseback riding programs available rapidly increasing, a new book, “Harnessing the Power of Equine Assisted Counseling: Adding Animal Assisted Therapy to Your Practice”, has been published to educate therapists who want to incorporate the horse therapy element into their practices.  

Equine assisted therapy
provides mental health therapy both on the ground and in the saddle to children or adults who have experienced trauma or other psychological damage.  Being around and working with horses provides non-judgmental time and space to interact with his or her horse, encouraging them to extend this interaction to others and form meaningful relationships with people.

Building a relationship with an animal is very rewarding in many respects; for a person with an emotional, social or psychological disability, the trust and loyalty of an animal demonstrates to the student how important he or she is; they may then apply this newly-acquired self-esteem to personal relationships. A horse may also help a person feel in control of his or her situation, since in dealing with horses there is a direct relationship between action and reaction.

Here’s what The Advertiser-Tribune had to say about “Harnessing the Power of Equine Assisted Counseling: Adding Animal Assisted Therapy to Your Practice”:

A new book has brought together 28 counselors, psychologists and medical doctors from around the world to share their experiences in using equine assisted counseling with clients.

“Harnessing the Power of Equine Assisted Counseling: Adding Animal Assisted Therapy to Your Practice” was released Dec. 13 by international publisher Routledge/Taylor & Francis. The book is written by counselors for counselors who want to add a hands-on component to their practices.

One of the contributing authors is Pamela Nielsen Jeffers, a 1979 graduate of Columbian High School. Pam is the daughter of Tiffin residents Don and Nancy Nielsen. Jeffers and her husband, Robert, are co-owners of Natural Freedom’s Relationship Based Equine Facilitated Learning and Therapy Center in Albany, which has 10 horses that are used for therapy with troubled children and their families.

“We do a lot with relationship building. … We practice it with horses because they give instant feedback with reading thenonverbals of their bodies, and a non-judgmental time and space to practice those relationship skills,” Jeffers said. “We work a lot with trauma. When you experience trauma, you’re heightened and it’s hard to relax.”

Kay Trotter, a counselor in private practice in Flower Mound, Texas, the initiator and editor of the book, sent an invitation for chapter proposals. Jeffers and two colleagues submitted a proposal that was accepted. Kristina Houser, a licensed psychologist and licensed independent chemical dependency counselor in private practice in Athens and Erin Lucas, a licensed independent social worker at Tri-County Mental Health and Counseling Services Inc., collaborated with Jeffers to write “Heart-to-Heart Rainbow: An Imagery Experience to Facilitate Relationship Development.”

The piece provides the clinical protocols to help counselors use equine assisted counseling with their clients.

Several years ago, the Jeffers family went through a crisis of their own and found comfort through one of their horses named Cheyene. The couple realized firsthand the therapeutic effect horses can have on humans. Pamela wrote about their experiences in an article published in Guideposts magazine. The “horses” page on the website www.naturalfreedomohio.com has a link to the article.

Jeffers said her work with horses started in childhood. While growing up in Tiffin, she participated in a 4-H program with her horse, Penny, until age 18. During those years, she learned leadership skills, including responsibility and communication.

She also got involved with therapeutic riding through Hope on Horseback, founded by Ellie Spellerberg.

“Penny was one of the first horses used in that program. That was the beginning of my experience with seeing the relationships with horses a little bit different, as far as the non-competitive aspect,” Jeffers said.

After graduating from Columbian, Jeffers studied therapeutic recreation at Ohio University in Athens. After college, she married Robert Jeffers, whose family owns a farm in Albany. For a while, Pamela taught evening classes at Hocking College. In 2006, she earned certification for equine-assisted therapy; she then formed Natural Freedom LLC, in 2008.

The couple had horses even before Pamela started her therapy program.

“Two were donated last fall because our caseload was increasing,” she said. “Each horse adds its own uniqueness to the plate. We have paso finos that were donated. … They’re really good for helping kids that get heightened and have trouble bringing it back down.”

Quarter horses, paints and a miniature mule complete the flock. Jeffers said all breeds lend themselves to therapy, depending on their temperaments. The paso finos are valued for their smooth gait and lively personalities. Clients who are afraid of the horses initially are coached to approach and handle the animals little by little until they are at ease. Designed for those with no previous experience with horses, the basic program offers mental health therapy “on the ground” and does not involve therapeutic riding.
Participants ages 5 and older are encouraged to “be in the moment” with the horse and to put aside the “could have’s” and “have to’s.”

Jeffers teaches clients to do breathing and other exercises to practice being calm and to recreate those feelings of calmness at home.

Her daughter, LaTicia, was a scholarship student in Tiffin University’s equestrian program. Now back home, she helps her mother with the Natural Freedom program.

“I tend to work the empowerment piece with the parents. That’s my niche. She adds her youthfulness and fun to work with the kids,” Pamela said.

Robert is working on his own certification. He helps out with special events. The couple also served as 4-H advisers in the Albany area while their two children were in the program. Down the road, Pamela would like to work with veterans. She said she thinks horses could help veterans struggling with the effects of trauma.

Although Jeffers has a college degree, she said equine-assisted therapy is a certificate program. Some mental health programs include coursework in equine-assisted therapy.

Jeffers said her education background has been helpful.

“I have found it extremely beneficial to be able to use the adaptations I learned in school and how to modify things and put things together. I think that’s why it’s working for us so well,” she said.

~ Source: The Advertiser-Tribune

The value and importance of horse therapy and therapeutic riding is immeasurable.  Children with disabilities love having a quiet, peaceful environment and so do horses – they can teach each other many things.

Learn more about “Harnessing the Power of Equine Assisted Counseling: Adding Animal Assisted Therapy to Your Practice” or purchase the book.

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