Berkshire HorseWorks: Equines and human therapy
RICHMOND - Buddy, Herman and 007 know how to help people work through their issues, from addiction to coping with tragedy.
They are keenly aware of others' feelings, and will never utter a judgment. Their presence alone can put a grin on your face - especially when they start nudging you or try to munch on your notebook.
By the way, Buddy, Herman and 007 are full- grown horses at Berkshire Equestrian Center on Perry's Peak Road.
On Thursday, about 50 mental health specialists and horse experts gathered inside a shaded arena at the center to watch as the three horses led volunteers through a demonstration and open house of what can be expected in the upcoming Berkshire HorseWorks.
Created just six weeks ago, Berkshire HorseWorks will implement the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) model to treat mental and behavioral challenges, including post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma, eating disorders and anxiety.
The EAGALA model uses equine-assisted psychotherapy and equine- assisted learning to help many different patients, from veterans returning from service, to children bullying others in schools. Hulahoops, pool noodles, traffic cones and buckets are just some of the props that can be used along with the horses. It was established in the Southwest in 1989.
Thursday's demonstration was, held, in part, to catch the attention of mental health professionals in the Berkshires and to certify them in the EAGALA model to do work for Berkshire HorseWorks.
"The model is very solutionfocused," said Hayley Sumner, the founder of Berkshire HorseWorks and who is certified in the EAGALA model. "If someone is doing an activity to work on an issue, then they are basically delving into their own being to find their solutions."
Berkshire HorseWorks will operate out of Berkshire Equestrian Center.
"I see this kind of program as a way of really forwarding individuals and forwarding groups and providing insight," said Carl Dunham, the owner of Berkshire Equestrian Center.
Unlike other horse therapy, the clients never saddle up and ride the horses. Instead, their two feet - and the horse's four hooves - stay firmly planted on the ground.
"Horses are so intuitive they reflect your behavior," Sumner said. "When you meet the horses on the ground, the horses can be themselves. When you put someone on their back, they're going into a different world that is not their natural behavior."
Animal therapy, mostly using dogs, has made recent headlines to help those affected by tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombings and the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. "[Horses] are flight animals, and in order to protect themselves they're able to read people very well," said Jimmy Downes, the owner of Relatively Stable, LLC out of Newtown, Conn. " Clinically, the social worker gets to find out about their clients 10 times faster than in an office model. Anything they can do can become significant to the client's session."
Horses at Downes' stable helped families and friends of some of the victims cope with their grief and emotions using the EAGALA model. Downes and Ellen Donaghey of Brewster, N.Y. are two of the four EAGALA models trained at Relatively Stable.
"We got to see the people have an opportunity to do something that was able to brighten their day," Donaghey said. "They had an ability to be themselves and, for the first time, actually felt some release and happiness. It became a routine that they could be comfortable with."
Downes and Donaghey led groups of volunteers in three demonstrations of the several Berkshire HorseWorks activities specialized to help a patient work through their trauma.
Dominick Sacco, a therapist at Monument Valley Middle School in Great Barrington, participated in one of the demonstrations: He was one of four linked together that had to act as one human body to get a horse over a small hurdle.
Sacco uses dog therapy with his students, but after Thursday, he hopes to use the EAGALA model in the future.
"I feel the horse is an incredible medium for treatment," Sacco said. "We can't bring a horse to a middle school, but we can bring a middle school to a horse."
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