Equine Connection Counseling: Horses Offering A Helping Hand
Equine Connection Counseling, also known as, ECC is an on-site facility in Cleburne, Texas, that provides therapeutic horseback riding lessons for people with disabilities. The founder of ECC, Dr. Hallie Sheade is a Licensed Professional Counselor and partners with an International Accredited Center, Wings of Hope Equitherapy.
Dr. Sheade has always been influenced by the horses in her life, and formed a special bond 20 years ago with a former rodeo horse named Cowman. Cowman and Dr. Sheade built a special relationship together that led Dr. Sheade to earn her M.S. in Professional Counseling as well as her Ph.D. to conduct research on the equine assisted counseling field.
Today, ECC currently serves almost 40 clients per week of all ages. With the primary service to military veterans, military families and at-risk youth, ECC helps clients who do not feel comfortable with traditional office-based therapy. Dr. Sheade has studied how equine assisted counseling can help military veterans with PTSD. While finding that veterans appear highly motivated to attend this form of therapy, some say that the equine-based relationships are a major factor.
“The presence of horses in the therapy sessions can help people feel more relaxed and less anxious about the counseling process,” says Dr. Sheade (pictured right). She also includes that this feeling of lessening anxiousness can help the clients process traumatic events and change unhealthy thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
At ECC, clients may choose the horse in which they would like to work with from the pasture, which will become “their horse”. The authentic and non-judgmental nature of horses helps clients to feel components of both safety and acceptance at the same time.
“Horses are prey animals and highly attuned to their environment- anyone who has had their horse spook at the plastic bag on the other side of the arena can attest!” says Sheade. “The horse’s organic response to the human also enables clients to become more self-aware. It has also been proven that through a relationship with the horse, clients can have an increase in self-esteem and self-confidence.”
Instructor, Paul Ziehe, who is certified through Wings of Hope and ECC has seen the impact that horses have on benefiting the veterans. “They learn horsemanship and they learn how to ride, but more importantly they form a relationship with the horse,” says Paul, a veteran himself.
Paul has also seen improvements with the at-risk youth that the organization helps as well. For example, bringing a child in that is known to be aggressive and exposing them to the horses can have many helpful effects. “The children get more comfortable and become substantially less aggressive and in turn, they become more nurturing,” says Paul. While he includes that some of the children may spend their play-sessions with the miniature horses, ECC is also home to multiple ex show horses as well.
Several of the horses at ECC are registered through multiple breed associations and have past careers as show horses, prior to becoming therapy horses. One horse in particular, Rip Van Winkle (pictured right), better know as Vannie, is an AQHA/PHBA gelding who was very successful on the PHBA circuit before he was donated to the ECC partner, Wings of Hope. “Vannie is highly attuned to our clients when they are in the pasture and will frequently join sessions when the client appears to be distressed when processing traumatic experiences,” says Dr. Sheade. The Texas Ranger, also known as Doodles is a registered AQHA/APHA who is also a therapy horse at the organization. Being known for his kind patience with kids and teenagers, Dr. Sheade includes that Doodles is very helpful in working with anxious children and helps to teach them how to calm themselves down.
If you are interested in helping to support the work of ECC, they are currently having their “Be An Angel” fundraiser from now through 12/31/15 which will raise money to provide free services to military clients as well as affordable services to anyone in the community. One hundred percent of the funds go to direct services and all donations are tax-deductible. Please click here to visit their website for more information.