By Samantha Snead
On Tuesday, Roanoke College students were invited to attend a presentation by Healing Strides of Virginia, a nonprofit organization that focuses on equine-assisted psychotherapy and learning, as well as therapeutic riding. The presentation lasted about an hour and touched on the organization’s mission, foundation, and methods for helping their visitors heal from trauma.
The audience was primarily made up of members of service sorority Gamma Sigma Sigma, a local service partner. However, other RC students also attended, and even one RC alum made an appearance. Carol Young, the Executive Director of Healing Strides, was the primary speaker of the night, leading off with a little bit of background about her own life and what inspired her to mold Healing Strides into what it is today.
Young had always felt a personal connection to horses, so much so that she gave each of her eight children their own horse so that they could feel the same connection. After teaching one of her friends who suffered from polio to ride a horse, Young noticed the newfound freedom her friend had, and wanted to afford others the same opportunity. That’s what got her interested in equine-assisted psychotherapy as a method of healing from mental illness or trauma.
Today, Healing Strides has instructors with certifications from both the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International and the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, though they primarily utilize the EAGALA method. The PATH and EAGALA methods differ in that the former focuses primarily on therapeutic riding, while the latter is ground-based.
One important aspect of the EAGALA method is the use of clean language, which involves going through training to learn how to observe without interpretation. A large part of Young’s presentation involved showing the audience pictures and asking for observations, and pointing out which comments were actually interpretations.
The staff at Healing Strides sees about 167 visitors per week, many of whom have unsuccessfully tried conventional therapy methods. Young told of a few such people, saying that, within just a couple of sessions, many people make more progress in equine-assisted psychotherapy than they ever did with traditional therapy. Young also explained the science behind equine-assisted psychotherapy, and why she believes so many people find healing through this method. She referenced a study that indicated a decrease in stress level and heart rate in people who were in the presence of horses for just 10 minutes.
A smaller part of Healing Strides’ mission is based on the second component of the EAGALA method: Equine-Assisted Learning. This involves a focus on educational goals, company team-building exercises, and leadership development. The event was a success and for more information visit www.healingstridesofva.org.