PALM CITY − The horses are part of the healing.
The rescued horses sheltered at the Equine Rescue spannd Adoption Foundspantion (ERAF) often sense the emotions people feel, said Merriam Mashatt, a certified instructor with the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship.
“… Horses are sentient beings,” Mashatt said. “There’s been studies done on that. It’s been proven that they can sense our emotions.”
The Equine Rescue and Adoption Foundation off Southwest Martin Highway has trained horses for use in human therapy for several years. Now, after receiving a grant, the foundation is prepared to train more horses for therapeutic use to be adopted around the country.
The program, Begin Again, is to start in January using a grant from the Americspann Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animspanls to train seven horses to become partners in therapy for veterans, foster care children or abuse survivors.
ASPCA awarded $11,200 to support creating the program for off-track thoroughbreds that will not be ridden to train in equine assisted therapies and services, said Savee Young, an ASPCA spokesperson.
The horses selected are retired racehorses rescued from around Florida that can’t be ridden because of injury or age.
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Mashatt said she plans to work with ERAF volunteers to train the seven horses for therapeutic uses.
Jeannie Jones, a mental health counselor with Resilient Spirit Counseling, said bringing people to engage in therapy with the horses can work in a different way than just a one-on-one session in an office.
“I also have a private practice. And I could do individual (sessions) in my office with a client,” Jones said. “We could do 8 to 12 weeks (that way). We could get all that in one equine therapy session because it really allows the clients to be vulnerable when they’re around animals.”
The horses, she said, can help provide therapy to trauma survivors. She said she’s brought clients to such therapy sessions, different from the Begin Again project.
She’s seen her patients drawn toward the horses because both have had to overcome and survive trauma, Jones said.
“I specialize in trauma. So a lot of the clients that come to my groups have experienced trauma. And it’s interesting because a client will kind of gravitate towards a horse,” she said. “Their stories have a lot of similarities of not only their trauma, but also through resiliency and overcoming that and surviving their trauma and healing.”
A group of clients would go into a pasture with the herd and let the therapy begin, she said. How the horses react with the humans and how the humans react with the horses is all a part of it.
There may be patterns or shifts or unique behaviors as the process therapeutically flows, said Jones.
“Sometimes we have a specific topic or obstacle for the group to do with the herd,” she said.
Because one of ERAF’s functions is to rescue horses and find them homes for adoption, the ASPCA grant funding will help ensure the horses selected can provide therapy long-term.
Mashatt said the grant will enable them to create a groundbreaking program to help horses at their facility continue engaging in therapy with people after adoption.
As ERAF can put more horses up for adoption that are trained and prepared under the new program, the facility will be able to take in more rescue horses, said barn manager Nancy Dunn.
“Every horse we adopt out gives us room to bring in another rescue,” Dunn said. “So for every one you adopt … you save another, because, unfortunately, it’s a never-ending cycle.”
Dunn said the training will help accommodate the horses, which are older, or were injured before being rescued.
The program, Dunn said, will benefit the horses during therapeutic training without people having to ride them.
Some of the horses have lost that function.
“… Everybody thinks of riding horses, but a lot of horses can’t be ridden either due to age or injury, or sometimes they just don’t like it. And that’s OK, too,” Dunn said. “But there’s lots of other things that you can do with a horse besides just ride them.”
It gives the horses a chance at a new path in life, Jones added.
“When they say it’s groundbreaking, it really is. Because you don’t really have many places where it’s a rescue facility that’s saving horses’ lives and not just giving up on those that aren’t able to be adopted,” Jones said. “… We’re being creative and innovative in how we can give these horses their sense of purpose.”