Devereux Glenholme School: Equestrian Therapy
By Samantha Gaul: Equestrian Program Director Devereux Glenholme School
The Glenholme School’s equestrian program has gained popularity over the past couple
of years as an important avenue to promote social learning and personal growth for students struggling with anxiety and depression.
The equestrian program plays an important role in the development of responsibility,
social skills, and behavior management. Students learn how to care for the horses, which aides in teaching them how to care for themselves. Horses also have the unique ability to understand/ mirror human emotions, which helps the students to understand their own emotions better.
By interacting with our horses, students gain a deeper insight and understanding of their own behaviors and how those behaviors affect people around them. In essence, improving their own social skills through nonverbal communication. This is especially important for students diagnosed with autism.
One of the ways a student can develop a bond and relationship with a horse is through grooming. When a student grooms a horse – such as brushing, bathing, or braiding the mane and tail – the practice develops a trust between that person and the horse. Grooming is also a very calming activity, providing a type of meditative practice for both sides.
There have been many students who initially had no interest in being a part of the equestrian program, but eventually gave it a try. And in many cases these students became some of the school’s most avid riders. Some have continued on with riding after leaving The Glenholme School. In one particular instance a student had a negative past experience with horses, was fearful, and hesitant to become involved in equestrian. Over the course of a year, this same student developed a deep passion for horses, overcoming their fear and becoming a seasoned rider. The experience helped this student with her self-esteem and the confidence to develop friendships with her peers.
The horses at the school – Diesel, Expo, Junior, and Ace – are favorites of the entire student body. When students go for walks around the campus, they will stop by to see the horses and give them treats. When a student becomes dysregulated, going for a walk to the stables is a great calming strategy that is often used. Students treat horses with great kindness and find pure joy in working with them.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year the equestrian program has become even more popular. Students who were normally not involved, started to show interest and discovered a hidden passion that they didn’t know existed.
As an instructor, it is a rewarding experience to see the bonds that are developed and the progress and strength it gives students to move forward during their time at The Glenholme School.