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"Save a Horse" Collaboration Helps Heal Rescued Horses


The Stable Place is excited to announce a new partnership with MadaresGold Horse Rescue, an organization dedicated to rescuing starved, abused, and otherwise neglected horses. Through our “Save a Horse” collaboration, MadaresGold identifies horses that are good candidates for rehabilitation, and The Stable Place provides expertise and resources for strengthening, training or retraining, and nurturing these horses in preparation for eventual adoption.


Sponsors are needed to help cover the costs of the rescue and recovery process, which typically lasts 60 days. A $500 donation—less than $10 a day—supports the quality care, feeding, and training necessary to prepare a horse for placement with a qualified new owner. As a sponsor, you can visit your sponsored horse regularly and participate in groundwork sessions that illustrate the progress made through positive human attention in a healthy environment.


Our first “Save a Horse” effort focuses on Awsie, a beautiful 17hh Thoroughbred mare approximately 8 years old who is retired from an early career in racing. For more information on sponsoring Awsie, contact Jayme at The Stable Place.


For more information on MadaresGold Horse Rescue, contact director Kendra Mitchell or general manager Laura Sinner.




 Equine Enrichment Helps Children with Autism


For some children, interacting with horses is an exciting novelty, like going to the beach or amusement park; for others, it’s a sports hobby that provides the opportunity to compete and excel. For children with autism, however, horses can be an important form of therapy, as significant to their well being as medical and psychological treatment.


Autism is the general term for a group of developmental brain disorders that affect social interaction and communication. Children with autism have difficulty relating to others and with interpreting and expressing emotion; for instance, they may not understand the significance of—or recognize the difference between—a smile and a frown. Language skills are often affected, with symptoms that range from compulsive repetition of words to the inability to speak at all. Many children with autism engage in obsessive or repetitive physical behaviors and thought patterns, and they may be distressed by even slight disruptions to their daily routines and environments. Autism disorders can also result in over- or under-sensitivity to sensory input, altering affected children’s perception of and response to sights, sounds, smells, and physical movements.


Autism is a lifelong condition that is usually identified by the age of 3; current estimates indicate that one in every 110 children will receive such a diagnosis. The cause is unknown but thought to be influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Early intervention with intensive therapies targeted to a child’s specific needs has proven most effective in treating symptoms and achieving developmental goals.


Horseback riding and other equine activities have been recognized as clinically valid forms of autism therapy because they involve a combination of physical and emotional interaction that addresses the key symptoms of autism. The rhythmic, repetitive movement of a horse provides external stimulation that can be controlled and varied as needed, so the autistic rider can learn to accommodate sensory input while building balance, motor control, and coordination. Because equine therapy sessions require responding to verbal direction from the instructor as well as giving verbal cues to the horse, the autistic child learns to communicate and connect with others. Even simple activities such as grooming can help the autistic child engage and bond with the horse, establishing a sense of trust and an ability to reach out that can positively affect the child’s broader relationships.


The Stable Place offers several programs specifically for children with autism. Our instructors are certified and experienced in providing an equine enrichment experience that is safe, fun, and rewarding. We welcome your questions and look forward to helping your child discover the healing power of horses.


For more information on autism, visit Autism Speaks. For more information on equine-assisted therapy, visit the Web sites for organizations such as EAGALA, NARHA, and EFMHA.




Equine-Assisted Therapy Helps Veterans with PTSD, but Lack of Funding Limits Outreach


Sitting at the table in The Stable Place office, Rosemary Hanna and Laurie Sullivan-Sakaeda chat about a black Percheron named Lucky with the ease of two friends who have spent hours in the arena together. But the connection between the women runs much deeper than a shared love of horses: Hanna is an Army veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Sullivan-Sakaeda is a licensed psychologist who is helping Hanna manage her symptoms using equine-assisted therapy.


Laurie Sullivan-Sakaeda and Rosemary Hanna with Guapo


Hanna's military service spanned five years in the late 1970s, but she didn't recognize the effects of PTSD or seek treatment until decades later, when, as she explains, "I fell apart in 2002." Initially unaware that she qualified for benefits under the Veterans Administration (VA), Hanna eventually went to the VA at the prompting of friends. She was assigned a therapist, but Hanna found that the experience did not inspire her to share the traumatic events she'd been suppressing for so long: "We'd sit down in a room and talk about absolutely nothing. Because after 30 years of hiding [the trauma], I was very good about getting around whatever needed to be talked about."


Fortunately for Hanna, Salt Lake's VA hospital offers progressive treatment options that include an "integrative health" program, which features yoga, hypnosis, tai chi, and acupuncture, as well as a recreational therapy program, which offers a variety of warm- and cold-weather outdoor recreation opportunities. Hanna learned that the latter was starting a pilot equine-assisted therapy group specifically for female veterans, and she decided to sign up, not quite knowing what to expect. That's how she met Sullivan-Sakaeda and Lucky, the big, black horse who would change her life.


Sullivan-Sakaeda was trained in the EAGALA model of equine-assisted therapy, which involves a licensed therapist helping clients address social, emotional, and behavioral issues using special activities with horses. These activities are designed to promote the building of life skills such as trust, confidence, problem solving, and teamwork, balancing the therapist's gentle probing with the horses' intuitive, grounding presence.


Because each veteran's issues are unique, Sullivan-Sakaeda tailors the therapy sessions to respect individuals' needs and boundaries. For some who aren't ready to verbalize their experiences, the simple act of brushing a horse, or listening to its contented snuffling in a feed bag, can bring a rare sense of relaxation after years of unrelenting stress. For others, the physical, experiential nature of the exercises serves as a metaphor for their struggles, helping them see how the burden of PTSD is adversely affecting them.


Sullivan-Sakaeda cites one example of a client whom she asked to halter a horse while carrying a bucket of rocks, which he wasn't allowed to set down. The man eventually determined he could free his hands by balancing the bucket between his legs, and afterwards he talked about the impact the experience had on him. "The bucket of rocks came to represent all the junk that [veterans with PSTD] carry around with them," she explains. "They're trying to function on a daily basis, and they've got this 'bucket of rocks' that they can't do anything with but that's not really doing anything for them....That really gave him an idea of what is going on with him and what's making his life hard."


For Hanna, the weight of her personal "bucket of rocks" began to diminish as soon as she began working with Sullivan-Sakaeda and Lucky. When the therapist urged Hanna to approach places in her mind that she needed to explore but where she didn't want to be, the gentle, nurturing horse provided a sense of security. Where she had previously feared the scrutiny of others, Hanna participated in group activities that allowed participants to discuss and learn from each other's challenges. After only eight sessions, Hanna was convinced this was the only form of therapy that could make a difference for her: "Just in those eight weeks," she says, "I got more from the horses and Laurie's feedback and Laurie's little tiny 'pushes' than I'd gotten from my therapist in three years." Despite the fact that she has a limited income and could receive free mental health care through the VA, Hanna dropped her VA therapist and arranged to pay for ongoing sessions with Sullivan-Sakaeda, which she has now been doing for 2-1/2 years.


Sullivan-Sakaeda notes that while many organizations fund the treatment of combat-related physical rehabilitation, there is widespread reluctance to take on veterans' mental health problems or explore alternatives to conventional "talk therapy." Where there is already a stigma surrounding PTSD within the military and the general public, she faces the additional challenge of being taken seriously by people and institutions who regard equine-assisted therapy as simply "hanging out" with horses, even with ample anecdotal and clinical evidence of the technique's efficacy. "People don't understand how it works, and they're not interested in finding out," she says.


Prior to starting the pilot equine-assisted therapy program in which Hanna first participated, Sullivan-Sakaeda spent several years trying to make inroads at the VA, succeeding only after gaining the advocacy of a new recreational therapy director. After the initial group proved successful and was expanded to accommodate male and female veterans of all ages, there was only enough VA funding to sustain 10-week summer sessions. Beyond that, the veterans had to pay out of pocket, something few of them could easily afford.


Several of Sullivan-Sakaeda's summer clients kept in touch with each other and expressed interest in continuing their therapy, so she led ad hoc groups through the winter last year. Because few of her clients had the extra money required for weekly trips to Grantsville, where Sullivan-Sakaeda lives and supports her seven therapy horses, these sessions were held closer to home at The Stable Place, which donated the use of its facilities and horses. For the summer of 2010, the VA had arranged for Sullivan-Sakaeda to run 10-week programs for two different groups of veterans; however, funding was recently dropped for the second group. That group could be reinstated if enough funding can be raised privately, but Sullivan-Sakaeda cannot accept the money herself; it must come through a nonprofit organization such as The Stable Place or the VA's recreational therapy program.


If sufficient funding can be secured long-term, Sullivan-Sakaeda would like to establish both 10-week and ongoing equine-assisted therapy programs with separate tracks for veterans from different eras. She explains that the younger veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom ("OIFs") have different needs and dynamics than veterans from earlier conflicts such as Desert Storm and Vietnam. While she is encouraged by the emphasis being placed on newly returning vets because early intervention for PTSD increases the likelihood of positive outcomes, she wants to ensure that older vets who have been suffering for decades--and who themselves express hope not for recovery but merely for some periodic relief--receive equal care using techniques appropriate for them. She needs to be able to cover the basic expenses of facilities, horses, and professional services, and she is especially adamant about removing the financial burden from the veterans themselves, whom she feels should not be expected to pay for treatment of their own service-induced trauma.


Both Sullivan-Sakaeda and Hanna acknowledge that PTSD is a condition that at best is managed, never fully cured. But for Hanna, the simple fact that she is here, chatting at this table, is proof that equine-assisted therapy can transform those suffering from trauma, and she is eager to see the program find support. "I wouldn't have been talking to you two years ago," she says. "[Equine-assisted therapy] is like the quiet storm. You don't expect the horses to have that much power or that much ability. It builds really fast, and then all of a sudden you realize you're making all of this progress. I'm ready to talk about things that I've never talked about before. There are still a few things that I'm not ready to talk about, but I'm at least able to acknowledge that they exist. If I'd stayed with my 'sitting in my room, talking to my therapist' thing, I'd still be sitting in my room talking to my therapist, staying at home doing absolutely nothing, hating the world, hating myself, being totally isolated, totally unable to do anything. And now I'm not--I'm able to go out....Now, I'm willing to take risks."




Westbrook Elementary Students Visit The Stable Place


It's a warm April afternoon, the kind of day when children gaze distractedly from school windows, suffering from a collective bout of spring fever. But for a group of 11- and 12-year-olds from Westbrook Elementary, the classroom has moved outside, and the students have been consumed by something else: horse fever. As part of the Experience Your Abilities Program (EYAP) sponsored by Splore, a nonprofit organization that provides outdoor recreation opportunities for people of all abilities, they are visiting The Stable Place to learn the basics of interacting with horses.


The stable grounds are abuzz with activity: In the arena, a group of volunteers leads horses and riders through an obstacle course. After weaving through poles and orange cones, they take short jogs down the center as the children hold tightly to their saddle horns and laugh with exhilaration. In the round pen, a boy grins with amazement as he discovers he can use body language alone to lead Sam, a towering but gentle Clydesdale mix. In the barn, Guapo, a handsome gray gelding, stands patiently in the crossties as he is brushed and patted by a small circle of admirers.


The adults supervising the EYAP group--Kelly Kukes, Brian Washington, and Sarah Whitmore--keep an eye on their charges from the top of the mounting ramp outside the arena. Kukes, Westbrook's special education teacher, gives calls of encouragement to the students as they ride by. "They're very excited to do it, but it's a huge new experience," she says. "A lot of these are city kids who have never been around horses."


Kukes explains that the program is designed as an incentive for children from both regular and special education tracks who demonstrate solid school performance and positive behavior. While their peers might gain recognition for outstanding academic or athletic skills, these students serve as role models based on character, and recreational outings such as today's visit provide access to opportunities they might not otherwise have. "They're so proud of themselves," she says. "It builds huge confidence for them."


Brian Washington, a Splore staff member, notes that equine therapy, particularly therapeutic recreation, is gaining momentum throughout the recreation community. Besides promoting balance and core strength, Washington says, horses have "a calming presence" that is particularly valuable for children with emotional and behavioral issues. Washington explains that outdoor therapy is effective for children because it eliminates the excess stimulation of the electronic world and removes social barriers that are frequently encountered through conventional school and community experiences. "It allows them to be themselves and affords them a safe opportunity to learn about themselves and about others, where they don't have to try to fit in with the system," he says. "They can just relax."


Sarah Whitmore, also a Splore staff member, is impressed by the effect the horses have on the children. She describes the experience of one boy earlier in the day: "[He was] absolutely terrified of the horse [at first], and by the end, within two hours, he was riding and smiling and absolutely ecstatic. It's really good to see the change in the kids, and the staff here is wonderful--everyone is really accommodating."


EYAP and Splore depend on funding obtained through grants, individual and corporate donations, and the United Way. Like The Stable Place, they need the constant support of people and organizations that believe in the value of the work they do. Kukes encourages contributions to support the children of the community. "This is something they don't get to experience in daily life," she says. "This is something that will forever be in their memory."


The students clearly agree: "This was the best experience ever!" a boy says with conviction as he carefully dismounts from his seat atop Taffy. "It was awesome--I was trotting!" exclaims a girl, her eyes wide beneath the brim of her helmet. When told there's still time for another ride, the children clamor for a spot in line, eager for one more trip around the ring. Copyright 2009, 2010 The Stable Place. All rights reserved.Web Hosting by Yahoo!2877 Cassell StreetWest Valley, UT 84119ph:


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