Article Contributed by
Lutheran Social Services
There is uncertainty in life, for all of us. However, children who have experienced trauma and anxieties in their young lives struggle with trust, communication and healthy relationships. Research confirms that horse or equine therapy can help children identify and cope with their feelings, understand boundaries, build trust, overcome fears, and improve communication skills.
The Therapeutic Horsemanship Program at Stillwater View Farm in Jamestown is under the direction of Misty Pennington, Director of Clinical Services at G.A. Family Services (GAFS) and Marilyn Nelson, owner. Together they show the way for youth to rebuild trust and improve their skills for healthy living through the care and love of horses.
“This is another way we help our youth at G.A. to heal,” Pennington said. “We involve the youth in both riding and horse care activities because these activities and the resulting relationships established between horses and riders have been shown to provide an effective form of therapy.” The combination of a horse’s size and gentleness is especially helpful in teaching children that it is possible to be both strong and kind without sacrificing one for the other.
The youth participating in the program are referred from G.A. Family Services. 16 year-old Destiny says she looks forward to the riding sessions and her time with her favorite horse, Regal. Destiny is also very excited about the prospect of going to horse shows this summer. “She loves horses and has always wanted to ride,” Pennington adds. “We have seen a dramatic change in her since she began. She is more self-confident, more open with her feelings, and she seems genuinely happier.”
Tayler, another youth from G.A., is more apt to be doing the physical chores that are needed in caring for the horses, which serves as an outlet for his emotions. “I want to own a horse someday,” he said. “I’m learning what I need to know to take of one.” Pennington is pleased with the progress she sees in Tayler. “He’s a quiet young man and tends to hold his feelings inside,” she said. “We’ve seen growth with his social skills and overall engagement in day to day activities. It’s amazing to watch the transformation of these young lives.”
Ms. Pennington grew up riding, showing, training, and caring for horses and now shares her passion with the youth at G.A. She is certified by the Pennsylvania Council on Therapeutic Horsemanship. In addition she holds a Masters’ Degree in Social Work from The University of Pittsburgh.
GAFS is a specialized treatment program for youth and their families who are in need of care. Treatment includes residential, a learning center, therapeutic foster care, adoption services and community based and preventative services. For more information about the horsemanship program call (716) 665-2116 and to learn more about G.A. Family Services, call or log onto www.gafamiyservices.net.