The swish of a tail, the long lashes on brown, almost black, eyes, and the soft, smooth, warm skin around the mouth and nose make up just small features of a horse. These animals are also used for therapy.
Equine therapy has become a recognized method of treating many mental, physical and psychological issues. Equine therapy uses interaction with horses, including grooming and riding, to treat these conditions without the patients feeling like they are in therapy. The movement of the horse best simulates a human’s pelvis in motion, which helps to build core muscles and in turn strengthens other muscle groups.
Equine therapy, also referred to as horse therapy, equine-assisted therapy, and equine-assisted psychotherapy, is a form of experiential therapy that involves interactions between patients and horses.
Equine therapy involves activities that are supervised by a mental health professional, often with the support of a horse professional. During the activity and after the patient has finished working with the horse, the equine therapist can observe and interact with the patient in order to identify behavior patterns and process thoughts and emotions.
The goal of equine therapy is to help the patient develop needed skills and attributes, such as accountability, responsibility, self-confidence, problem-solving skills and self-control. Equine therapy also provides an innovative environment in which the therapist and the patient can identify and address a range of emotional and behavioral challenges.
“For children and adults with disabilities, the equestrian experience is life changing,” reads the Kingmans Healing Hooves website. “No other therapeutic recreational opportunity benefits so many aspects of a disability in such a holistic way.”
Equine therapy has been successfully integrated into treatment programs for adults and teens who are being treated for substance abuse, addiction, behavior disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, learning differences, ADD or ADHD, autism, Asperger’s, grief or loss, trauma, sex addiction, compulsive gambling, bipolar disorder, depression and related conditions.
Kassie Schuerr, founder, director, and trainer for Kingman's Healing Hooves, said they have 10 therapy horses at their facility on Glen Road. The horses go through rigorous training, and each one has at least two years of training before being therapy horses.
“If the animal doesn’t do the same thing 10 times correctly, then it isn’t trained,” Schuerr said. “It’s just consistent work and being black and white when we are teaching them.”
Schuerr said that the training never stops. There are always circumstances that the trainers couldn’t have predicted, so they are constantly adding in elements to their horses abilities. The trainers work with the horses almost 365 days a year, no matter the weather, Schuerr said. The horses are desensitized to loud screaming or yelling which could distract or spook the animals.
“We can’t train the fear out of an animal that is hardwired to be fearful,” Schuerr said. “What we can do is train them to trust me as a leader, which takes a lot of trust on the animal’s part and skill in training.”
Schuerr said horses are naturally afraid of anything that moves or makes a noise, but they ride them through all kinds of loud environments, including dust devils that pop up.
The facility is volunteer based, and there are about 20 volunteers throughout the year. Every volunteer has to go through an orientation program to teach them about the horses and the way they are trained. Then they are encouraged to work with the horses to familiarize themselves with the cues. Healing Hooves serves the whole population, from children to adults, able-bodied to disabled, Schuerr said. Every year the facility sees 250-300 people from all over Mohave County. Each client gets a tailored experience, and Schuerr said there isn’t really anything they can’t offer.
Fundraising helps year-round for rider scholarships and horse care. For disabled riders, there are scholarships available.
“Our goal is to have funding for all of our special needs riders and outreach programs,” Schuerr said.
Fundraisers include events such as the Poker Hand Trail Ride and Luau dinner. For four years now, Healing Hooves has partnered with the Special Olympics Equine Program for a horse show that is put on in May.
“We want to make our facility available to everyone in our community to gain something from,” Schuerr said. “People can experience horses in a way that can help them through a lot of their obstacles … we serve anyone who wants to learn about horses.”
The facility is open all year and any upcoming events and lessons can be found on their website kingmanhealinghooves.com or on their Facebook page Kingmans Healing Hooves.