After receiving a positive response from students last year, the What Horses Can Do For Your Mental Health workshop will return, taking place at 3:40 p.m, Oct. 23rd* at the University Farm.
Ron Prather, teacher at Kirksville High School and certified equine specialist by EAGALA, says he was asked to do the workshop by Personal Relations Director Heidi Templeton. The main idea of the workshop, Prather says, is to introduce students to alternative methods of therapy they could use for coping with emotional and physical health, as well as trauma and life disabilities. In addition, Prather says participating could also help students think about their career options and possibly increase interest in working with horses.
Prather says the workshop will involve 3 to 4 horses and students will have an allotted time to interact with the horses. Nursing students will also be involved in the workshop by recording the physical vital signs of participants, Prather says.
UCS counselor Beth Miller will work alongside Prather in the workshop. Miller says this is her first time being involved in the workshop, having just become a certified counselor through the EGALA program during the summer.
Miller says the workshop doesn’t require any horse experience, and there will be no riding since all the activities will be held on the ground. Activities will focus on team building and communication, Miller says.
The students will get an idea of what it feels like to work with horses, Miller says. Though they will not be directly doing therapy with the horses, Miller says, students will get the chance to learn and be exposed to how horses can positively affect mental health. Miller says the workshop could boost student interest in the equine therapy class that will be offered for credit in the fall.
Emily Costello will help provide horses for the workshop. She says she has been the coach of the Equestrian Team at Truman since 2007.
Costello says working with horses can teach students a lot of things — gaining a sense of pride in accomplishing and achieving goals, learning to be patient and thoughtful in their actions, feeling responsible, learning to manage fear and providing comfort.
“[Working with horses] requires you to create that sense of calm about yourself and it helps you to deal with whatever issues you may be having,” Costello says. “It helps you to maybe put some of those issues in a better perspective and because there’s a non-judgemental listening situation, a lot of the time students feel more comfortable expressing the emotions and the thoughts that they’re having to the horse because they know that there’s going to be no judgement returned to them.”
Costello says she’s very supportive and excited about the workshop, and it’s a good way for students to temporarily distance themselves from the stress that campus can cause.
“For a lot of people, one of the stressful things about coming to college is, no offense to their parents and the rest of their family, but they’re leaving their family pet behind,” Costello says. “They’re not having that interaction with the animals that they’re used to having, so it [the workshop] creates a little bit more of a sense of normalcy.”
New equine therapy class starting at Truman State University
A new group is being formed on campus this semester and the class list includes counselors, faculty, students and horses.
UCS counselor Beth Miller, says the idea for the group came from Ron Prather, teacher at Kirksville High School. Miller says Prather was interested in starting an equine therapy program and brought the idea up to the Agricultural Science department and UCS.
Miller says the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association model is a team approach program that requires an equine specialist, a mental health specialist and horses. Miller says Prather is certified as an equine specialist in the EAGALA model, which is an experiential framework designed to allow people to discover, learn and grow from horse-human relationships. To create a therapy group according to this model, Miller says it needs to have individuals certified for both positions, so she says she is currently finishing certification for the mental health specialist position.
Miller says the horses are not ridden in the EAGALA model, but students will have objectives for each section during which the horses will have different roles depending on the situation.
“It’s an experiential approach, a here in the moment type of counseling,” Miller says. “So students are able to act out whatever problems they are experiencing in real life in the arena with the horses and hopefully come to some solutions and healing.”
Miller says the plan is to have a therapy group of six to eight members starting during the second half of this semester, and to have a class of roughly 15 students on the EAGALA model starting fall 2017 taught by Prather and Miller.
Miller says she thinks an equine therapy program will work well in Kirksville.
“I think it’s a great fit for a community like Kirksville,” Miller says. “There’s a lot of need here in this town — a more rural area — to have more services available to the community and more awareness about mental health, so I think it’s a great program for this area.”
For more information, contact Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or Prather at RPrather@kirksville.k12.mo.us.
*Correction: This should read Oct. 28.