Equine Therapy Offerings at Solstice East Make Lasting Impression Post-Graduation
Solstice East’s sprawling 25-acre campus provides plenty of space to accommodate a residential lodge, a large private pond, a fully-accredited high school, and a welcome center. Perhaps the most notable inclusion is the on-site equine facilities located at the center of campus and home to nine Solstice East horses, some of which are brought in from a local rescue. Equine therapy is the heart of programming and is often what draws both students and their families to Solstice East, and it continues to make a lasting impression on alumni long after graduation.
Horses are intuitive, social animals that offer moments of introspection, reflection, and feedback to anyone who works with them. Horses share a lot of commonalities with teenagers; both can be headstrong yet also sensitive to emotions. This is particularly true when it comes to a person attempting to direct, groom, or closely interact with them in any way. For example, if a teen struggling with anger issues comes to equine therapy, they might approach the horse with feelings of guardedness and frustration. The horse, in turn, will resist and back away, struggling to trust that it’s in a safe environment. It is only when both the teen and horse feel mutually safe that a bond is created. Building off of this feedback from the horse, students slowly begin to attune and lean into their true selves. Equine therapy helps teens develop self-awareness, which helps them confront and embrace their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. As a result, they form a more accurate understanding of themselves and their environment.
“You can learn a lot about a student by the horse they choose to work with during their time at Solstice East,” says Director of Equine Services, Terry Kozak. “They often choose a horse similar to themselves which comes with both benefits and challenges.”
In equine therapy sessions, Solstice East students learn from their interactions with the horses by applying the lessons to their lives through metaphors. Themes such as boundary setting, building trust, problem-solving, and developing emotional awareness or regulation can be explored from different perspectives in a low-stress environment with the guidance of the equine specialist. Kozak notes that often the biggest treatment “breakthrough” or “game-changing” moments in programming occur when working with the horses. Some students choose to incorporate horses they’ve developed a strong bond with into their graduation ceremonies and, even beyond graduation, will continue to reach out to request photos and updates on that horse.
“It’s not uncommon for students who have graduated to reach out about visiting a horse they were especially connected to here,” says Kozak, “ In addition to the equine therapy sessions, our students also help feed and care for the horses throughout the week, so it creates a natural opportunity to experience personal responsibility in the relationship as well. It’s no surprise they form such strong connections to the animals.”
Horses help humans feel more socially secure by providing them with a nonjudgmental bonding experience. Creating a strong relationship with an animal during the impressionable adolescent years can help teens feel more confident about opening up to other people. Part of maturation is learning the importance of reciprocity in healthy relationships. When teenagers lack healthy attachment to parental figures or peers, they become vulnerable to self-esteem issues and unhealthy influences. Building trust in relationships, including animal friendships, is an essential way Solstice East sets teens up for success in their future.
About Solstice East
Solstice East is a residential treatment center for students ages 14-17 nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains just outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Solstice East is committed to treating each student through a combination of individual, family, equine, and adventure therapies as well as treating and diagnosing a range of issues including (but not limited to) trauma, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, suicidal ideation, self-harming behaviors, attachment, and identity issues. Solstice East assists adolescents and their families in developing excellence in relationships, influence, character, and health throughout their life journey. Our holistic approach acknowledges that mental health diagnoses are only one piece of the puzzle; we strive to help students succeed in multiple areas of their lives.