Equinox RTC Launches Horsemanship and Trail-Riding Curriculum
Equinox RTC is a residential treatment center for boys ages 14-18 dealing with issues related to trauma, loss, and attachment. As part of experiential therapy programming, students are taking ongoing trips to local stables to learn more about horses, and explore and build healthy relationship development skills.
Equinox Primary Therapist Angie Curtis, MSW, Natural Lifemanship and Equine Specialist, is guiding the experience. A small team of Equinox students is going for three consecutive sessions, and then they will rotate to a new team. The groups will rotate back around, but the consecutive weeks are important to skill acquisition through experience and repetition. Boys start by slowly building the foundational pieces of interacting with a horse. They begin the day by using different tactics to build trust with the horse in order to get the horse to move. They then move to more physical contact, brushing and eventually saddling the horse. After successfully completing these steps, they climb on and go trail riding. To complete the experience and help teach the boys the importance of responsibility, they finish with mucking stalls and other care activities.
While at the stables, students also have the opportunity to spend time with a farrier to learn about horses and their body language. The farrier explains how to understand what the horses need and, in particular, how to take care of their hooves.
“The students were tasked with getting Hershey (the horse) to stand on an 8’ x 8’ square made of cones,” Primary Therapist Angie Curtis, MSW said. “The students weren’t allowed to use their hands or voices for the first ten minutes, nor were they allowed to bribe or touch the horse. They tried intimidation, intense eye contact, feet stomping, circling around him, raking leaves under him, and trying to play fetch. It wasn’t until one student built trust and another applied pressure from behind that Hershey had the motivation to follow the first student into the square, where the rest of the group waited and welcomed.”
The horsemanship experience differs from traditional experiential learning in that it has all the same elements of experiential but has the addition of relationship development with an animal. Animals, and horses in particular, are an excellent mirror for underlying/unsaid emotions and nonverbal energy. As a consistent part of programming, students will be challenged to build upon their relationship with the horses from week to week.
A relationship-logic approach is the foundation of therapeutic treatment at Equinox. Learning how to communicate appropriately and effectively is part of each student’s process. Experiential horse therapy gives students an animal to nurture and practice their nonverbal skills. Practicing nurturing is critical for students struggling with attachment issues. Building these connections with the horses can help students express their emotional, caring sides appropriately and safely in a supportive environment. And conversely, saying goodbye to the horses and practicing “moving on” as part of life allows them to experience separation, loss, and potentially bereavement in a new, more supported way.
About Equinox RTC
Equinox RTC is a leading residential treatment center for boys ages 14-18. Equinox is unique in its focus on Trauma, Loss, and Attachment, providing clinically intensive treatment for boys struggling with anxiety, depression, OCD, ASD, learning disabilities, and other emotional and behavioral needs. Equinox offers a combination of clinically sophisticated support with a whole-person approach including adventure therapy, a health and fitness program, and a whole foods diet. Equinox provides a fully accredited school, with broad course selections taught by licensed teachers in a college-preparatory environment.