Article by Megan Nelson | Photography by Matt Hubbard | Owl Staff
Two ponies amble up to the fence, no doubt looking for treats. As part of a special program at Bay Meadow Farm in Bel Air, Maryland, they are calm and curious. They are used for equine- assisted therapy, a form of treatment that is well-suited to the rural suburbia of Harford County.
Jennifer Kraus purchased Bay Meadow Farm in 2009 with the goal of offering an alternative to traditional therapy. As co-founder of Mane Focus Therapy and founder of Horse Power Life Coaching, horses are a central part of her life. She strives to help people with almost any condition or diagnosis.
Through equine-assisted therapy, the client or patient can focus on something else in order to work out his or her issues.
“It really depends on how you think, and can make things easier when you have a problem in real life,” Kraus says.
It can also help with conditions involving genetic or environmental factors, and can aid treatment with autism, emotional disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
People suffering from PTSD can include veterans, victims of domestic abuse and rape victims, among others. As of 2013, 13 states were facilitating equine-based prison programs, with the intent to have a positive impact on inmate rehabilitation.
Equine-assisted therapy may help a child with autism the same way it helps a victim of trauma. This is due to the fact that it can build confidence, self-esteem and trust. It can also increase mindfulness and help a person with poor problem-solving abilities work through issues.
The relationship built during equine-assisted therapy may be the first experience of trust building after an abusive relationship, according to the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health. A person must learn to trust the horse, the therapist, the trainer and most importantly, themselves. As trust is established, other positive relationships may be cultivated.
According to the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, horses are highly sensitive to their environment, which increases their sensitivity to human emotions. In addition, they have the ability to identify facial expressions and that helps them identify how someone is feeling.
Kraus incorporates this ability with her clients.
She says, “Horses don’t understand verbal language, but they understand tone and body language.” This helps the mind and body convey the same message and transfer it into a real- world situation.
Harford County has a long history with horses, both as recreational and work animals. As they continue to be a part of our county culture, equine- assisted therapy offers a new avenue for them to help people.