Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy/Occupational Therapy Summer Internship

By Arianna Velcich, Mental Health Occupational Therapy, University of Scranton

Occupational therapists work with their clients to help them achieve a fulfilled state in the person’s life through the use of activities that are found to be meaningful to the client. The goal is to achieve the highest level of independence that is realistic for the client. The believed role of equine-facilitated therapy is that horses may be highly beneficial in aiding in the healing process of a person struggling with a mental illness. As an occupational therapy student observing at SkyRiding L.I., I quickly learned the link between occupational therapy and equine-facilitated therapy.

Using horses to treat a person with mental illness can assist in improving their cognitive, physical, emotional, and social skills. Due to the fact that horses are prey animals, they are  sensitive to changes in human behavior. A horse may react differently depending on the emotional state of the person. A large part of communication is depicted through unspoken language and gestures, which certain people find difficult to read. Learning to read a horses behavior can then be generalized into reading another humans behavior. Throughout my experience at SkyRiding L.I., I have seen that the child’s level of comfort when interacting with the horse is often higher than when they interact with another human. Working with the horses serves as a third party in the therapy session and eliminates certain hesitancy that may be present in just a client/patient relationship.

There are not only emotional benefits but physical ones as well. Riding a horse improves core strength, balance and stability, coordination and flexibility. This activity also provides a positive impact by training the lower limbs as well as the intrinsic hand muscles. Finding ways to practice certain skills without performing the actual activity is called generalization and is a skill occupational therapists often use. One way this skill can be used is through observation. During my experience, I noticed that motor coordination, eye movements, body functions, and the ability to follow directions that go into riding a horse are similar to those needed for driving a car. Along with all the other muscles horseback riding strengthens, the intrinsic hand muscles are substantially developed due to griping the reigns. This, in turn, can improve a child’s ability to hold a pencil and write. Overall, equine-facilitated therapy can help a person achieve many occupational therapy goals. Two of the most prevalent and equally important goals to the rest are play and leisure.

 

 

The Horse is a Metaphor for Your Life

The horse is a metaphor for your world, environment and life. A steady rhythmic horse, the first level on the training scale, provides riders with an opportunity to move up the scale and to accomplish new things.

A steady rhythmic life provides an opportunity to thrive, learn new things and move forward. When we are stuck in our lives then we should look to our world for inconsistencies. Take a critical look at your days, your routine, living environment and finances. Look at the people around you. Are they supportive? When we are surrounded by loving, supportive people life begins to feel steady and consistent, and we may begin to feel comfortable enough to take opportunities to move forward, even just a little.

Steady finances/income may offer the stability needed to take a class or join a book group. When days are spent worrying about basic needs there is little room for growth.  When the horse’s basic movement is hindered by a lameness issue and moving forward is physically difficult then there is no room to try to move up the training scale. There is no way to move forward.

A thriving horse has fresh hay, clean accessible water and loving caretakers. The environment in which we live requires fresh fruit and vegetables, high quality proteins and loving, thoughtful people all around.

Take inventory of your world.  What horse are you riding? Is your horse lame? If so, find a horse that moves in a steady, rhythmic pace to facilitate moving forward in your life.

Equine Assisted Social Skills Group on Long Island

Equine Assisted Social Skills Group on Long Island
Benefits of Social Skills for Autistic Spectrum Children
As described in the article, The Little Professor Syndrome, by Lawrence Osborne, June 2000, individuals with AS and autism often have outstanding verbal skill but are unable to communicate. The article offers a realistic and authentic look into the lives of those with Asperger’s and autism and speaks to the similarities and differences between the two. Asperger’s children alternate between brilliance and isolation.  Some children make active social attempts but in an inappropriate way. Despite their huge vocabulary, their obsessional interests or fixations can get in the way of socializing appropriately.  Often memorizing television shows, list of passengers on the Titanic or alphabetical listing of a class year book.  
ASP children despite their exceptional skills with language have difficulties “reading” human social signals.   Social skills groups allow all participants to try out what is correct and socially acceptable. They learn to pretend and communicate with appropriately matched peers in a safe, controlled environment.  These children can learn to wear the correct social mask if given the opportunities to learn and practice

Social Skills groups with horses facilitate learning through un-mounted activities.  Horses provide a different type of feedback for the autistic and AS child.  The equines retreat and cooperate as nature dictates. This opens up opportunities for discussion and skills practice.  Horses are authentic, gentle, accepting and do not see disabilities and therefore become great tools for self-discovery. 

 

Equine Assisted Women's Discussion Groups - Sky Riding Long Island

Equine Assisted Women's Discussion Groups - Sky Riding Long Island
Women experience transitions many times in their lives. These may include changes of employment, self-actualization, divorce, mourning, post-partum or emotional difficulties of any kind. When women come together to share their stories and challenges in a safe non-judgmental environment, the experience often is very grounding, validating. Equine assisted activities and discussion groups offer the participants an opportunity to achieve emotional awareness. Group members gain empowerment and personal insight while connecting with the natural world.

Why horses? Horses possess “unique attributes...as members of the therapeutic milieu” (Vidrine etal., 2002: 590). They are inherently non-judgmental, representing the true unconditional positive regard so crucial in helping relationships (McLeod, 2009). Despite their physical size, which in itself elicits respect, horses are prey animals with instinctual hyper-vigilance and flight instinct. Their extreme sentient abilities and immediate, honest, nonverbal feedback prompts many commentators to describe horses as ‘mirrors’ for human feelings and behaviors thereby facilitating personal exploration (Rector, 1992)

 

Why be a Sky Riding Volunteer?

Why be a Sky Riding Volunteer?
Do you enjoy helping people? Being outdoors?  Do you like horses?
Sky Riding LI is looking for volunteers to help with our Sunday programming.  
Must be at least 14 years old.   No horse experience necessary but a bonus.

Volunteers Help:
•    Tack
•    Lead
•    Sidewalk
•    Interact with our clients

This is what volunteers say about volunteering with Sky Riding:
“There is so much to love about being a Sky Riding volunteer. The horses are guaranteed to make you smile but it is the participants who never cease to inspire. Having the opportunity to support the participants in a team environment and sharing in their accomplishments is what makes this such a deeply rewarding experience.”
“I love volunteering for Sky Riding LI because horses bring out the best in me. Seeing students make progress each week puts a smile on my face. I even think I've seen the horses smile too!” 

Physiology of Therapeutic Riding - Sky Therapeutic Riding Long Island

Horse movement and the interaction with horses provide benefits and opportunities for improvement in many areas. Some of these include cognitive, sensory, proprioception, gross and fine motor skills, muscle development, and psycho-social development.

Opportunities to improve cognitive development are created as the riders show an increased willingness to participate on horseback. This motivation enhances their ability to focus and follow directions. Riders show an improvement in attention, concentration, and comprehension.
Sensory input is delivered to the riders from the horse and the enriched environment at the barn. Sights, sounds, smells and tactile sensations are presented by the riding equipment, grooming tools, horse’s coat, and movement. Outdoor therapy and activities provides a natural environment which helps people relax, reduce stress and instill a sense of well-being. Exercising in a green space is more beneficial than forms that concentrate on exertion without considering the surroundings. (Stephen Riddell, 2011)

Maneuvering a horse around the ring in specific patterns requires motor planning. Riders execute the correct sequence of events by navigating the riding ring. They steer around cones, over poles, pass appropriate letters and work with other riders in the ring. 
 Proprioception, knowing where one’s body in is space, encourages development of balance and coordination. Riders learn to maintain proper alignment of their body and personal body placement while around the horses. This translates to learning personal space on the ground.
The unique sensory stimulation of the horse’s movement and the deep pressure experienced by the rider when mounted on the animal provides the sensation of walking. The walking and trotting movement of the horse stimulates the riders muscles needed for walking and coordination and aids in encouraging correct locomotion.

Results of the interaction between mounted rider and horse includes correction of body posture, gross motor skills, increased core development and improved muscle symmetry. (William Benda, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. December 2003)
Riders adjusting to the constant motion of the horse, mounting, dismounting, posting, balancing in the stirrups, holding two-point position, and steering are activities which provide opportunities to increase gross motor function.

Fine motor skills development is encouraged by the proper holding of the reins, grooming the horse’s mane and tail, assisting with buckling, unbuckling and tacking the horses. These acquired competencies can readily be transferred to functional life skills for children with autism. (Margaret Ann Stickney, 2010)

Come and meet a Sky Riding LI horse, Huntington, LI. Therapeutic Riding benefits everyone including individual with mental, physical and emotional delays. Sky Riding LI also offers Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy for anyone looking for peace, balance and clarity and make changes in their lives. Please call 516-241-2046 for more information or visit www.SkyRidingLI.com.
© 2012 Nancy Tejo, Sky Riding LI

 

A Horse With Many Names


A Horse of 1000 Names

What’s in a name?  If you were assigned a horse named “Diablo” how would you feel?  Or “Thriller”? Or “Baby”?  Our thoughts and feelings about our horse’s name can prescribe our feelings and our expectations about our experience with our horse.  Why should we let this external factor affect our experience of our horse?  What would happen instead if we approached each interaction with complete openness and lack of expectation?

One of our favorite EFP horses has been given many names by our clients:  To a client who is in a period of transition in her life, the horse is “Chance”.  To a client who is looking for closeness, the horse is “Buddy”.  Another client named the horse “Marlboro”.

In Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy, the horse becomes a mirror in which the client is reflected. During the activities which could include grooming, leading, touching or riding the horse, the horse reacts to our energy as well as our nonverbal cues and acts according to what it is picking up.  A horse may pull away, refuse to budge, run around the paddock, nuzzle us, or wrap its neck around us in a horse “hug”.  Time after time, we hear from clients, “That’s exactly what I do…the horse is me.”

When we give our EFP horse a name, what are we really saying about ourselves?

Sensory Integration – Autism Spectrum Workshop

Workshop Sensory Integration and Autism

Christa Schorn LCSW, is shown here participating in the “hands-on” activity at the day long Sensory Integration Workshop.

What a great opportunity to visit with the High Hope Therapeutic Riding School in Old Lyme, Connecticut. The workshop was full of information about senses and how they can be perceived differently, depending on how the individual processes them.

The barn tour was informational and it was very interesting to learn how different their set up is from other stand alone therapeutic riding schools. We are coming back to work with new information as well as support and validation from colleagues in the field of therapeutic riding.

Volunteer your time and bring happiness to your life

Why be a Sky Riding Volunteer? Do you enjoy helping people? Being outdoors?  Do you like horses? Sky Riding LI is looking for volunteers to help with our Sunday programming.  Must be at least 14 years old.   No horse experience necessary but a bonus.

This is what our volunteers say about their experience with Sky Riding:

“There is so much to love about being a Sky Riding volunteer. The horses are guaranteed to make you smile but it is the participants who never cease to inspire. Having the opportunity to support the participants in a team environment and sharing in their accomplishments is what makes this such a deeply rewarding experience.”

“I love volunteering for Sky Riding LI because horses bring out the best in me. Seeing students make progress each week puts a smile on my face. I even think I’ve seen the horses smile too!”

Therapeutic Riding–Improve Communication by Releasing the Tendon Guard Reflex

 Releasing the Tendon Guard Reflex

The Tendon Guard Reflex which is activated by stress may be relieved by the action of “heels down”.   Horseback riding can be used as a tool to reduce the tendon guard reflex which is the body’s natural response to fear. This reflex causes all the tendons in the back of the body to shorten.( Judith Cross-Strehlke)

Shortened calf muscles, toe walkers, often show up in autistic and speech impaired people. These people may be exhibiting an exaggerated tendon guard reflex in response to stress. Carla Hannaford, PhD., has found a correlation between shortened calf muscles and the limited ability to speak or communicate.  She advocates for activities that consciously bring neural attention towards a relaxed calf and the whole back body.

What is the Tendon Guard Reflex?

The Tendon Guard Reflex is activated with stress in response to protecting the muscles and tendons and is characterized as Red or Green Light.  A healthy mature Red Light reflex initiates a freeze and fight response. A person with a hyperactive red light TGR is over-focused on unimportant details, can perseverate, or simply shut down or freeze. A person with a hypoactive red light TGR seems unaware that focused attention is needed and continues with whatever activity he is actively engaged in, remaining oblivious to any need relating to a looming danger or obligation. .  (Dr. Masgutova, MNRI Body System Integration Program)

 A healthy, mature Green light response initiates a flight response when posed with certain stress.  A person with a hyperactive green light TGR often acts without much forethought, can misread the situation, and respond impulsively, often resulting in a fight or flight reaction without much provocation. A person with a hypoactive green light TGR remains relatively nonresponsive to events and experiences that generally elicit action in others.  (Dr. Masgutova, MNRI Body System Integration Program)

Therapeutic and classical horseback riding provide opportunities to stretch and relax the tendons and muscles along the back of the leg.  Riding students are encouraged to bring their heels down, allowing their weight to drop into their heels.  Exercising and stretching the tendons, which facilitates tension release via the Tendon Guard Reflex; helps bring the whole body to a renewed relaxation.

Riding lessons and time with horses naturally provide physiological benefits.  The calm nature of horses becomes a calming force for our riders. The horse’s gaits act as a soothing mechanism for riders.   Equestrians have always encouraged heels down for safety purposes, and now Therapeutic Riding instructors and those working in the field of Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy have another tool to aid with releasing the TGR and exploring the benefits.

Benefits of Therapeutic Horseback Riding

By Nancy Tejo PATH Intl. Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor

Horse movement and the interaction with horses provide benefits and opportunities for improvement in many areas. Some of these include cognitive, sensory, proprioception, gross and fine motor skills, muscle development, and psycho-social development.

Opportunities to improve cognitive development are created as the riders show an increased willingness to participate on horseback. This motivation enhances their ability to focus and follow directions. Riders show an improvement in attention, concentration, and comprehension.

Sensory input is delivered to the riders from the horse and the enriched environment at the barn. Sights, sounds, smells and tactile sensations are presented by the riding equipment, grooming tools, horse’s coat, and movement. Outdoor therapy and activities provides a natural environment which helps people relax, reduce stress and instill a sense of well-being. Exercising in a green space is more beneficial than forms that concentrate on exertion without considering the surroundings. (Stephen Riddell, 2011)

Maneuvering a horse around the ring in specific patterns requires motor planning. Riders execute the correct sequence of events by navigating the riding ring. They steer around cones, over poles, pass appropriate letters and work with other riders in the ring.

Proprioception, knowing where one’s body in is space, encourages development of balance and coordination. Riders learn to maintain proper alignment of their body and personal body placement while around the horses. This translates to learning personal space on the ground.

The unique sensory stimulation of the horse’s movement and the deep pressure experienced by the rider when mounted on the animal provides the sensation of walking. The walking and trotting movement of the horse stimulates the riders muscles needed for walking and coordination and aids in encouraging correct locomotion.

Results of the interaction between mounted rider and horse includes correction of body posture, gross motor skills, increased core development and improved muscle symmetry. (William Benda, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. December 2003)

Riders adjusting to the constant motion of the horse, mounting, dismounting, posting, balancing in the stirrups, holding two-point position, and steering are activities which provide opportunities to increase gross motor function.

Fine motor skills development is encouraged by the proper holding of the reins, grooming the horse’s mane and tail, assisting with buckling, unbuckling and tacking the horses. These acquired competencies can readily be transferred to functional life skills for children with autism. (Margaret Ann Stickney, 2010)

Come and meet a Sky Riding LI horse, Central Islip, LI. Therapeutic Riding benefits everyone including individual with mental, physical and emotional delays. Sky Riding LI at Parkview Equestrian Center also offers Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy for anyone looking for peace, balance and clarity and make changes in their lives. Please call 516-241-2046 for more information or visit www.SkyRidingLI.com.