Power of the Horse: Students Participate in Equine Therapy

Equine Therapy is the newest addition to counseling services offered at St. Joseph’s.

A young Lakota girl takes her hand and gently brushes the brown fur of her new friend, who she’s named Charlotte. For a moment, no words are spoken between the pair, but there seems to be a connection – a quiet understanding – between them.

Charlotte is a horse in the St. Joseph’s Indian School Equine Therapy program, and the girl a participant. Throughout the fall season, 16 students and four horses met twice a week as part of the new therapy program at St. Joseph’s.

Horses provide a calming presence to students in therapy sessions.

Unlike typical talk therapy, equine therapy involves less talking and more action and observation. Equine therapy can help with conditions like anxiety, grief, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Students can process their emotions, and the horses read body language and energy without judgment,” said Robyn, Director of Counseling Services. “We are very excited to add this to the types of therapy we offer at St. Joseph’s.”

St. Joseph’s counselors took part in a training before students were introduced to the program.

During therapy sessions, students started by learning to bridle and place a bareback pad on the horses as a way of bonding with them. After many weeks together, they led the horses through an obstacle course without speaking, meaning the student and horse had to lean on one another. Students also fed the horses grass and led them to water.

Simply, the students learned to care for and interact with the horses. By doing so, felt the therapeutic effects indirectly but meaningfully.

“They were able to share their stories with the horses along with the peers in their group,” said a counselor. “One of the students was able to make friends in this peer group, as she was struggling with maintaining positive friendships. She not only made friends with her peers but she was able to make friends with her horse relatives.”

Another counselor said a student she works with has begun coming out of her shell after taking part in equine therapy.

“She’s been more verbal during sessions and is able to express how she feels emotionally regarding her work with the horses,” she said.

Throughout the sessions with the horses, the students began to trust their quiet companions more and more.

“I learned that horses are nice animals,” said one student participant. “You can also have conversations with the horses. It is okay to tell horses anything because they can’t tell anyone.”

When future sessions begin in the spring, it will feature three sections: a sibling group, a grief group and individual session with the horses. The sibling group will specifically work with family groups who have been in the care of the Department of Social Services. As the children may have been separated for a long length of time, the program will work to reconnect the children and help them form a family bond. The grief group will focus on healing for students who have lost a loved one. The individual sessions will focus on students who need more one-on-one time with the horse and counselor to recover from past trauma.

A St. Joseph’s counselor practices leading a horse, which is one of the activities students took part in during their therapy sessions.

The horses do not live on campus, and are transported to and from St. Joseph’s by their permanent caretaker.

“Although the program currently only uses groundwork with the horses, a riding therapy portion is hoped for the future as the program grows,” said Robyn.

The šúŋka wakȟán – horse – has a cultural connection to the Lakota students at St. Joseph’s, too. Native peoples incorporated horses into their cultural and spiritual lives, and the bravery and grace of the horse was revered. Read more about culture at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

Pilamayathank you – for supporting programs like this at St. Joseph’s Indian School!

Author: St. Joseph's Indian School

At St. Joseph's Indian School, our privately-funded programs for Lakota (Sioux) children in need have evolved over 90 years of family partnership, experience and education. Because of generous friends who share tax-deductible donations, Native American youth receive a safe, stable home life; individual counseling and guidance; carefully planned curriculum based on Lakota culture and individual student needs and tools to help build confidence, boost self-esteem and improve cultural awareness. All of this helps children to live a bright, productive, possibility-filled future.

24 thoughts on “Power of the Horse: Students Participate in Equine Therapy”

  1. I’m glad they have an opportunity to mix with animals. Animals can be great companions. Friends who only want our companionship.

  2. I’m very surprised that horses have not been used as therapy for the students a long time ago, I have used my 2 dogs as therapy for the past 10 years since coming back from Viet Nam, they have been great helping with my PTSD, and then the loss of my wife 3 years ago. I talk to them and sometimes cry with them , without them I would have gone crazy, as I have no close relations here in Arizona, I have a daughter in Washington and the other in North Carolina and being 84 I just don’t have many others. My love to all your children, and as I can, I try to support your work.

    1. We’re glad you have found the companionship of animals therapeutic. It’s our hope that our students will find the same. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Horse therapy is wonderful ! I’ve seen how it works and it is amazing ! Very glad that you have incorporated this to help these children!

  4. I also think that this news is wonderful! Equine therapy works. It is such a heartfelt therapy as one bonds with animals…especially horses. The horse I ride here in upstate New York is an Appaloosa quarter horse with whom I have bonded. He is my favorite companion when I need a break from life’s problems.

  5. Horses are very in tune to their surroundings as well as the people who are around them . This is an excellent therapy for people that need an intuitive understanding without judgements. I hope the children will thrive from this unique experience. I would love updates and a voucher sent to me for helping to support this program. Michele Del Gaizo, Taunton,MA

  6. I am so happy that you have started this Equine Therapy. I think its a great way for the children to start loving horses.
    Sometime soon I would love to visit a horse farm and visit with the horses they have.
    I have always loved horses since I was a little girl.
    Please keep me updated on the reports of this Therapy with the children.

    Thank you,

    Therese Boie

    1. Thank you, Therese! When the program begins again in the Spring, we plan to feature more updates about this program right here on our blog and also on our Facebook page. Thank you for your interest and kind words!

  7. We have an equine center in Rehoboth, Ma. Which uses horses for children with special needs.

    Congratulations on such a great program. Your school is in my prayers along with the children,

  8. I am thrilled to hear the children at St Joseph’s Indian school have this opportunity for equine therapy and I am a firm believer in it ever since I read an awesome book called “Hope Rising” by Kim Meeter who paired horses with youth and so many children benefited from it. This is just wonderful and I pray for success in the program as it takes off. God bless!

  9. I cried when I saw Charlotte’s picture; she looks so much like my horse Apollo who passed after 24 years of companionship. I know Charlotte will bring so much joy to the students . Congratulations for recognizing the value of student/animal partnerships. Educating the mind is important, but activities that feed the spirit are even more important. It makes me so happy to know I have helped in some small way.

    1. Bonnie, thank you so much for reaching out and sharing that personal story with us. We are honored to have this program on campus and hope Charlotte makes an impact for our students as Apollo did for you! We appreciate your support.

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