For centuries, people have realized the physical benefits that horses can provide. We used them to pull our wagons and plow our fields; utilizing their size and strength to accomplish the tasks of the day. As we worked alongside our horses, we soon realized there were other subtle mental benefits that these magnificent animals provided. The mere presence of horses seemed to bring us a comfort and calmness that was difficult to explain. We were beginning to notice the therapeutic value of horses, and we were not alone. This mysterious phenomenon had also been experienced by other cultures in other countries hundreds of years ago.
Equine therapy dates back to the 17th century when the Greeks began using horses for therapeutic riding. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that therapeutic riding was introduced to North America with the formation of the Community Association of Riding of the Disabled (CARD). Since then, people worldwide have found therapeutic riding to be an instrumental part of helping people with a variety of physical and emotional difficulties.
Although the physical benefits discovered from therapeutic riding were striking, people also noticed an improvement in patients who worked with horses but didn’t ride them. Those that suffered from a variety of anxiety disorders, communication deficits, and other social/emotional issues also dramatically improved from simple horse interactions. Patients reported an improvement in their anxiety levels; feeling calmer and more focused. We soon learned that horses were extremely beneficial to those that had difficulty dealing with human interactions and we began to realize that interacting and communicating with horses was a valuable therapeutic aid.
Unlike humans, horses respond to one’s actions with an immediate response. Learning to communicate effectively with a horse is an important gateway to learning how to communicate with people. For those who feel uncomfortable in social settings, horses offer a safe setting for individuals to interact in a non-threatening environment. Horses don’t talk back or argue, so there is less fear of getting it wrong. Communicating your desires effectively takes practice and patience. If you get it wrong, you simply try again without the threat of verbal criticism or embarrassment. (Horses are naturally forgiving in that way.) After an individual experiences successful communication with a horse, these same skills can be transferred to human interactions with the assistance of a therapist. Fortunately for many, there are now numerous equine therapy programs throughout the nation. One such program, White Horse Youth Ranch (WHY Ranch) is a Las Vegas-based program that has experienced success with young people who are having difficulty with social relationships and interactions.
WHY Ranch is a nonprofit youth organization that provides a safe place for socially challenged youth to experience personal healing through horse therapy. Founded in 2007 by Amy Meyer-Terry, the WHY Ranch was established to pay tribute to her grandparents, Paul and Helen Meyer, and to help children cope with difficult life experiences as she once did.
Their program, “Diamonds in the Rough”, offers free horsemanship training for socially challenged youth that may be having difficulty dealing with social interactions, confidence issues, and conflict resolution. The children WHY Ranch work with may have social difficulties stemming from a variety of situations. Family stressors, such as divorce or the death of a loved one, can often cause poor social interactions and communication. Similarly, those that have been bullied or abused may also have social difficulties due to low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence. Although they are not therapists, the WHY Ranch team has demonstrated remarkable success in helping youth adapt and work through life’s challenging times.
The first Diamonds in the Rough program started with just 4 children. Now the WHY Ranch serves over 300 children per year and currently has 11 working therapy horses. Like the children that they help, their horses have experienced their own difficulties in life. Each horse who has been adopted and rescued for various reasons brings its own unique gift of hope and reassurance to those in need.
While services are free for participants, the WHY Ranch relies on donations and volunteers to sustain their program. For more information on Diamonds in the Rough and the WHY Ranch, or to make a donation, you can visit: www.whyranch.org
WHY Ranch is opening their gates to the survivors, first responders, medical staff, families and children affected by the October 1 mass shooting. Come, spend some time with them and their loving animals including chickens, bunnies, goats and majestic horses. Please call 702-644-9177 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule some animal therapy time for you and your family!