Hoof and Hand
Horsin Around Helps: Hoof and Hand Is Therapy Redefined
BY LYNN RHOADES: Special to The pilot
Most therapists start the day in an office or a clinic. Lisa Anderson, a licensed clinical social worker, starts her day at the Jimmy Thompson Farm, just outside of Carthage.
Before Anderson can meet with any of her clients, she has to feed and groom some of the other members of her therapeutic team: Simon, Little Slew, Emma and Banjo. These four horses make up the hoof side of Hoof and Hand, Inc., a new non-profit organization providing Equine Assisted psychotherapy (EAp) services to at risk youth in Moore County.
The idea for Hoof and Hand came to Anderson as she struggled with the frustrations of her clinical work.
What do you do when a child is not responding to traditional therapy I knew about therapeutic riding, says Anderson, who was boarding her own horse in Southern pines at the time. But I didnt know about any other models. I thought, I have got to be able to combine my two loves in some way.
A little research on the Internet got her in touch with a Winston-Salem therapist working with EAp. Anderson went to see her, taking a client and caregiver along.
Really, I was just blown away with how this client really found his voice, Anderson says, recalling her initial EAp session.
How does EAp work The focus of EAp is not riding or horsemanship. Rather, the client engages in a variety of ground activities tasks involving the horse. A licensed therapist and an equine specialist work with the client and the horse as a team. Hoof and Hand has two equine specialists, Leah Whaley and pete Everett.
Im focused on the client, Anderson explains, and I need the equine specialist to help focus on the horses behavior, body language, and safety.
The activities come from EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association). Really, it starts very basically, Anderson says, from haltering a horse right on up to getting a horse over a jump in the round.
Through these exercises, the client is required to apply certain skills, such as non-verbal communication, problem solving, empathy, and personal responsibility.
What were doing is seeing how a child might form relationships in their life, Anderson says, And how they communicate with their body language as well as verbally.
Hoof and Hand co-chairman Kevin Allen, a behavior specialist with Moore County Schools, points to the importance of body language and personal space.
That is a major challenge to many children, Allen says. They dont understand that. They learn that with the horse. Its incredible to see.
Kids get to understand their own body language and how it effects others, equine specialist Whaley says. The horse is a big animal, but its very sensitive and responsive, she adds. Whaley, who has 24 years of experience around horses, traveled with Anderson to Atlanta last June to obtain her EAGALA certification. Whaley and Allen both point out how humbling it is for kids especially kids with aggressive tendencies to be around a 1,000 pound animal.
A lot of kids that are assaultive, in whatever way, its because they havent integrated empathy into their psyche, Anderson says. And so when theyre out here with a large animal, theyre kind of on the other side of the coin now. Theyre the one feeling vulnerable, theyre the one feeling like they need to ask for help and use their voice.
Its a lesson in life skills, Allen adds.
We do something called billiards, says Anderson. We set up a corner of the arena so that we have some barriers on each side. The task is to get that client to get that horse into that area without touching the horse.
For children that cant form friendships, the moment when a horse starts walking right along with them is very powerful, Anderson and Whaley agree.
EAp is a therapy that gets to kids through the back door, Anderson says. The real purpose is to help penetrate the defenses of clients if they are not responding in clinic based therapy Its breaking down barriers where they havent responded to traditional cognitive types of psychotherapy.
While EAp is a fairly new therapy, Anderson, who has a masters degree in social work, stresses that her licensing board acknowledges EAp. EAGALA provides the certification and professional standards by which services are provided. The therapy is Medicaid approved, and Andersons clients obtain authorization from either Sandhills Mental Health or Sandhills pediatrics.
Because it is so intensive, EAp is a short-term therapy for clients who are generally referred to Hoof and Hand from one of the countys other child serving agencies. Anderson recruited her board members directly from these organizations.
When I got back from my EAp session in Winston-Salem, I called all the community folks that I knew from working with mental health and the school system, Anderson says. And everybody was real interested.
Today, the board of directors has representation from Moore County Schools, Behavioral Health Care of the Carolinas, the N.C. Department of Juvenile Justice, Sandhills pediatrics, and the Sandhills Center for Mental Health. Moore County Schools Behavior Specialist for grades 6 through 12, Laura Dendy-Weaver, serves as chairman.
The board is charged with raising both community awareness of EAp and financial support for Hoof and Hand, a 501-c3 organization. The board held a silent auction in 2002, and is currently seeking donations in kind. Items needed are barn equipment, hay and grain. Andersons wish list includes a wooden sign and T-shirts with logos.
Volunteers are needed as well, particularly those with horse experience willing to assist with exercising and grooming. Volunteers are not needed to work with the children, Anderson explains, because therapy sessions are confidential and HIppA compliant.
Anderson is grateful for the community service workers who have been assigned to Hoof and Hand. During a recent Saturday morning at the Thompson farm, Larry Shields from Community Services delivered two teenage boys to Anderson. She put them to work cleaning an empty paddock, but not before a brief chat about horses particularly on the importance of never standing directly behind one.
A couple of Community Service workers have gotten so gung-ho for this that theyve wanted to volunteer, says Anderson. Some kids have never experienced a horse or farm environment.
Anderson and board members happily acknowledge out how fortunate Hoof and Hand is to be operating out of the 100 acre Thompson farm that also boasts an indoor arena, allowing sessions to take place in any type of weather.
Long term organization goals include an after school program and corporate team-building workshops