Bryan, TX When a person experiences trauma, therapy can help them deal with buried emotions. It's pretty common practice to use therapy animals as a tool for counselors.
But what about a therapy animal that weighs half a ton and has a mind of it's own? I spent an afternoon with the horses.
At the rodeo arena at Still Creek Ranch, nearly sixty people drag folding chairs onto the dirt floor. This isn't your conventional counselor's office.
Especially up close.
"It can be intimidating," says Patti Mandrell, an international trainer with Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, or EAGALA.
Three horses roam the open arena. They are therapy animals. There are no ropes or restraints. 55 people from across the country trained in Bryan to use horses to counsel.
The horses go where they want to.
"They are not necessarily going to come up to someone unless they choose to, or feel like they can, or are safe in that situation," explains Mandrell. As she talks, a horse walks over to her and stands right beside her.
"They are going to be honest about how they feel in that situation and they'e very honest communicators. They're masters of non-verbal communications," laughs Mandrell, "because that's how they communicate."
The feedback is almost instant. The results can be dramatic.
"I have seen clients just lives be transformed," shares Mandrell.
Equine assisted psychotherapy, or EAP, is an alternative to traditional talk therapy. It seems uniquely suited for Still Creek Ranch.
"We have all the tools in place. We have a fantastic facility. We have the horses and we have the children that need this kind of therapy," says Kelly Riccitelli, director of the equestrian program at Still Creek.
Scotty's House, a local non-profit that helps abused children, uses horses every week with thier clients. They see immediate changes.
"What's really nice about horses is they are genuine," says Alisa McDonald with Scotty's House.
"There's no expectations. In life, kids have expectations placed on them regardless of where they are and what they do and there's always a right or wrong. When we're working with the horses, and with the kids, there's no right or wrong and there's no expectations," continues McDonald.
Even a small change, counselors say, can mean a step in the right direction. The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association hosts training sessions around the world. The program is flexible so that no matter where the counselors are, they can uses horses from their area.