The teens were less than thrilled when they arrived.
Looking out at the dusty scene, five teenagers reluctantly exited the car and walked onto the hot, dirt-filled path.
As members of LSF’s Grace Place group homes, their social worker encouraged them to try equine-therapy—a form of therapy that includes a range of activities involving horses to promote mental health. Each teen has been removed from his or her home due to abandonment, abuse and/ or neglect, and the trauma they’ve faced requires patience, compassion, and attentiveness.
It was their first day at the horse ranch, and they weren’t sure what to expect.
“When traditional therapy is not working, we have to come up with other ways to get young people the support they need,” says Ashley Scher MSW, a social worker for the Juvenile Advocacy Project, which is a Lutheran Services Florida partner.
Before the equine therapy began, they were withdrawn, scrolling through their phones with boredom. When the lead trainer introduced them to the horses, and they drew back in fear.
“Just hold out your hand and wait for the horses to greet you when they’re comfortable,” she explained. “Extend the invitation, and just wait for their consent.”
That was the beginning of the breakthrough, as a few of the teens felt like they could personally relate to that advice.
“I’m the same way,” one teen whispered. “I don’t like when people just touch me without permission.”
For the next hour, they worked with the horses as while learning coping techniques and sharing personal experiences.
By the end of the session, they were laughing, offering to help clean up, and asking about when they’d get to come back.
“There was a complete change from when they arrived to when they were leaving. And there was this transformation that happened while they were there,” Ashley says reflectively.
Equine therapy is known as a unique way to build confidence, empathy, problem-solving skills, and emotional awareness.
And it’s now one of many tools the Lutheran Services Florida team has begun incorporating in its ongoing journey toward effective, holistic, and innovative mental health support for its young people.