I got a press release today about a North Dakota State University assistant professor studying the therapeutic effects of horses. Specifically, she is looking into the effects on youth with troubled backgrounds.
This is intriguing to me. I don’t have a troubled background and my family never raised horses. We had some family friends who did and I vaguely remember being able to ride their horses on just a few occasions as a kid, under the diligent supervision of my parents and the owners.
The only documented evidence of this is a picture of me — probably around 6 years old —sporting my signature wild, curly hair and an ear-to-ear grin as I hold the reins, sitting atop a beautiful, shiny brown horse.
I had gotten a special day with Mom and Dad and their friend’s horse. Why? My big sister had been invited to a sleepover. And I had not.
In the NDSU professor’s study, young people at Home on the Range child care facility get to ride and groom the horses, and also participate in regular, equine assisted psychotherapy sessions with an equine specialist and a mental health expert.
Preliminary findings indicate problematic behaviors of those children participating in the equine program normalized in all areas. The study isn’t complete yet and the professor has much more to do in continuing her research, but the clinical director at Home on the Range calls her findings “groundbreaking.”
I would in no way compare my one day of sleepover-exclusion blues to kids with troubled backgrounds. Obviously, it pales in comparison.
I don’t know what those kids feel and can’t begin to predict what sadness or loss causes extreme behavioral problems.
But I know one 6-year-old kid whose giant, toothless grin was wholly attributable to that shiny brown horse.