Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse News
2009 Stallion Issue


Feature Article
The Healing Power of Horses


by Mary Marshall

Hope Hill Childrenís Home is a residential treatment facility for troubled teenage girls dealing with a variety of problems often stemming from some sort of abuse (physical, sexual, and emotional) or neglect. Some of the challenges that Hope Hillís residents face range from trouble getting along with their peers to severe drug and alcohol use.

In the fall of 2006, Hope Hill staff was looking for a way to reach one particularly troubled young girl that was not making progress in traditional counseling sessions. Alison Chambers, then a Counselor at Hope Hill Childrenís Home, had the idea to introduce the youth to one of the horses on campus. It soon became clear that the youth made more progress while working with a Kentucky Mountain Horse than she ever did using conventional methods. As a result of her interaction with the horse, the youth opened up as she never had before, allowing her to deal with the challenges she had to face to complete her treatment.

The early success of equine-assisted counseling at Hope Hill led to the birth of H.A.L.T.E.R (Healing Adolescents Lives Through Equine Relations). Chambers is now the H.A.L.T.E.R Program Director and credits the unique characteristics of the Mountain Horse for the programís success. "The program has really taken off," states Chambers, "and the activities we do with the girls may change, but the horses remain consistent enough to trust even the most troubled youth in an arena with them." Aaron Cude, one of the programís counselors, says, "We use Kentucky Mountain Horses because they are gentle, curious, and able to mirror the girlsí behavior in the arena. They adapt to various situations exceptionally well, and the curious temperament of our horses in the arena is an invaluable asset while in session with our young ladies."

Many of the activities in the H.A.L.T.E.R. program are designed to encourage the girls to reflect on some of the challenges they face. One activity involves a group of girls moving a horse over a low jump that represents an obstacle or conflict in their lives. This may seem simple to most, but the challenge is that the group must do this without speaking to each other or touching the horse.

"When we discuss the activity, we focus on what the participants do well with the horses in the arena and what behaviors work, thus providing multiple learning opportunities for the participants. The horses are able to choose if they want to engage in the activity and 100% of the time they choose to. Every activity the girls do, ranging from grooming to natural horsemanship, provides an opportunity to teach the girls about self awareness, self worth, communication, and making choices that will benefit them in the real world," says Chambers.

A recent graduate of the Equine program states, "You can relate to the horse. You put real life into what you do with the horses. My mom acts like some of the horses, and I have learned new ways to try to work through our problems." "I donít think we would see the same success using just any horse," says Chambers. "The Mountain Horseís willingness and ability to learn is a crucial part of the exercises."

After almost three years, Hope Hill Childrenís Home is proud to have seen significant growth in the program and now provides additional services for drug and alcohol addiction, families, and Hope Hillís foster care program. Chambers is pleased with the growth that the program has seen so far, but is still looking to the future. "Our goal is that every youth who comes to Hope Hill has the opportunity to experience the breed of horse that originated in their own back yard and to see how a horse can be used for more than riding. Working with the horses in a therapeutic setting can be a life-changing experience. In the coming years, we hope to raise the funds to build an indoor arena so that we can hold sessions in all weather conditions and provide a safer, more predictable environment."

Hope Hill would like to thank those who have provided educational materials, clinics, tours, and donations, making the breed accessible to a population of young people who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to work with horses. To find out how you can help Hope Hillís H.A.L.T.E.R Program or other Hope Hill programs visit our web site at . Hope Hill is a 501©3 agency and all donations are tax deductible.