RICHARD W DIONNE, JR.
Horses who help with healing
At Silva Spirit Farm in Tiverton, a day with horses might be just what the doctor ordered
Jessica Veroline (left), a mental health professional, and Carol Ann Silva, who runs Medicine Horse equine therapy center, work together to pair those in recovery or treatment with horses who can play a critical role.
Courtesy of East Bay Newspapers
Posted Friday, October 23, 2020 11:00 am
By Kristen Ray
The sun was shining down brightly, but Rachel’s mind had clouded over as she sat alone in the middle of the Silva Spirit Farm pasture, lost in thought. A handful of horses were busy roaming the grounds around her, but Rachel had eyes only for one. With its silky black hair and spirited demeanor, it was different from all of the others, and Rachel felt herself attracted toward it.
They stood there together, just she and the horse, for nearly half an hour; Rachel stroking its head and neck, the horse providing her its undivided attention. Rachel cared for that horse and wanted it to care for her too, but eventually it was ready to move on, and as the horse trotted away Rachel was struck with the realization that this was exactly how all of her relationships go. She has found and lost love, and once it was gone, she turned to drugs each and every time.
“The abandonment and self-worth, of being unlovable,” she said. “It, like, hit me right there.”
It was a powerful, “mind-blowing” moment for Rachel, yet she was not alone; many of her fellow residents from Teen Challenge — an 18-and-over all-women’s drug and alcohol addiction treatment center in Providence — were having their own realizations as they each spent time with the horses that sunny morning on Saturday, Oct. 3. It was the reason why equine specialist Carol Ann Silva had invited them down to her Tiverton Farm in the first place, where the nonprofit, Medicine Horse, was housed. She wanted to demonstrate how equine-assisted psychotherapy could play a powerful role in the journey toward healing, and that it could be accessible for all.
Why it works
Incorporated as a 501(c)(3) in March of this year, Medicine Horse is comprised of Ms. Silva and mental health professionals Marjory Roberts Gray and Jessica Veroline. As a team, they facilitate therapy sessions at Ms. Silva’s farm, using the equine-assisted growth and learning association (EAGALA) model to treat a variety of emotional, behavioral and mental health issues, from addiction and grief, to anxiety and depression, PTSD and eating disorders.
“Everything that a therapist deals with, we deal with,” Ms. Silva said.
Unlike therapeutic riding, the EAGALA approach takes place entirely on the ground, next to the horses; during sessions, clients engage in activities centered around one of four different focuses — move, create, observe or relate — depending on the issues they are working on. Someone having relationship troubles may try to ‘relate’ and form a connection with one of the horses; a child struggling with grief may ‘create’ a painting on them to exhibit their emotions.
“It’s a method that firmly believes that clients have their own answers, and you just need to provide the safe space for that story to unfold,” said Ms. Silva.
Since they are prey animals, horses are acutely aware of their surroundings, capable of adapting their behavior to whoever they are around — making them “gold for humans, because they read our energy,” Ms. Gray said.
“You don’t really see that in any other kind of animal that we use in these therapies,” she added.
Because the EAGALA model is an experiential, metaphorical approach to therapy, Ms. Silva said they never share information about the horses. That way, the animals can transform and represent whatever they need to in that moment — whether that be a deceased grandparent, sibling conflict, or career opportunity.
“Regardless of what they think or I think the horses are doing, it’s what the client reads from it,” Ms. Silva said.
A day of healing
Though they know just how transformative equine-assisted psychotherapy can be for clients, Ms. Gray said that even they were not expecting the powerful experiences had by the Teen Challenge residents at the farm that Saturday. Only a few out of the 12 women attending had ever been around horses before that day; some even had a fear of the animals. But for Kelsey — having experienced a tumultuous upbringing in the city — spending time with the horses at Silva Spirit Farm was like a dream come true.
“I always wanted to be around horses and stuff,” she said. “I used to dream about it to take me out of my physical situation.”
For about two hours that day, that is exactly what Kelsey and the others got to do. Splitting up into two different groups, the Teen Challenge residents experienced a less-directive version of the EAGALA approach to therapy, getting to spend some time out in the pasture with the horses as Ms. Silva, Ms. Gray and Ms. Veroline stood back and observed.
Some of the women went from horse to horse, patting their heads and stroking their necks; others kept their distance, simply watching the animals from afar. Forty-eight-year-old Lisa found herself drawn to one of the large brown horses, its body pressing against hers as she stroked its mane and muscular body. Standing there, she knew what it was like to feel safe and protected, after experiencing a lifetime filled with traumatic events.
“That’s a big piece of the struggle, acceptance,” she said. “Individuals, with people … even with myself. Accepting myself as who I am.”
Caroline, meanwhile, spent the majority of her time in the pasture sitting next to one of the miniature horses, each choosing not to bother the other. As she sat there, her thoughts drifted to her son, now almost six years old; how, just like between her and the horse in that moment, there was distance in their relationship — a consequence, Caroline knew, from her dependence on alcohol and drugs.
“I’m watching this child who really doesn’t want anything to do with me,” she said.
Though Steph was able to bond with many of the other horses in the pasture, she was “hurt” when the black-haired one in particular ran away from her. That was exactly what her mother did, Steph remembered, when she abandoned her at such a young age.
“It’s something I’m still working on and healing through,” Steph said.
Though the day had brought up some difficult emotions and memories for the women, some in the group were already expressing interest in coming back to the farm before they even had left; in the days since, Ms. Silva said they have gotten numerous thank-you notes from the residents, detailing just how moving of an experience that had been.
“It never fails to create an environment that’s relevant and important to whoever’s in there, whoever we’re working with,” Ms. Gray said. “It amazes me, every time.”
How you can help
As a registered nonprofit, Medicine Horse accepts donations. For more information about the organization, visit www.medicine-horse.com.
Tiverton Horse Therapy Helps Individuals With Emotional Trauma
Published: October 1, 2020
Medicine Horse @ Silva Spirit Farms in Tiverton, RI
I've spent the majority of my life in Westport, on the Tiverton line, and never knew about horse therapy until today.
Properly known as Equine Assisted Psychotherapy & Personal Development, Silva Spirit Farm in Tiverton offers assistance for those in need of therapeutic counseling. Now, these sessions don't involve actually riding on the horse, but rather walking with it and spending some time with it throughout the therapy.
The program is called Eagala and here's how it works:
According to Medicine Horse, the program that resides on Silva Spirit Farm, it's an "experiential modality that utilizes horses for growth and learning. In other words- participants learn about themselves and others by partaking in activities with horses and then discussing thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, and patterns."
Honestly, I have never heard of this type of program before, but I am highly intrigued. The therapy only works if there's a team involved that consists of an equine specialist, a mental health professional, and one or more horses.
Owner of Silva Spirt Farm, Carol Silva, brought in one of the specialists from North Dakota and the other from western Massachusetts.
"You have to have the right combination to be able to collaborate with the horses and the right team to decide and choose the activities for the clients," Silva told Fun 107.
Here's what piqued my interest, because the way it works is rather fascinating. The horses provide therapy by reading the clients and feeling their emotions and eventually becoming a metaphor for whatever is bothering the individual or family.
Now, I've heard of psychologists and therapists who use the power of music or even surfing to cope with severe issues or trauma, but never any involving horses and that alone is what makes the program so unique.
Medicine Horse began as a pipe dream for Silva. For over a decade, she had dreams of opening up a horse farm that provided nurturing and comfort for those in need. Today, she can proudly say that what started as an LLC is now a fully licensed and staff program that came to life after a $1,000 grant from the United Way of Fall River, that was given just this past year to help those who are having troubles dealing with COVID-19.
Along with COVID, the program also caters to multiple scenarios and situations:
— Gambling problems
— Coping with COVID-19
— Coping with a death
— Family stress or troubles
It can be used to help families with depression and anxiety due to COVID, especially with siblings who argue and parents having trouble dealing with that. It's designed using horses to help bring a healthy and peaceful life back to the broken or stressed-out family.
Medicine Horse, although not free, has been know to provide demos and all exclusive events to help out local programs that sponsor kids and adults who may have some sort of behavioral, mental, or traumatic experience that has affected his or her life.
This Saturday, October 3 from 10 a.m. to noon, Team Challenge of Rhode Island will be among those programs hand-selected to be invited down to Silva Spirit Farms where the Medicine Horse program will be able to show the power of equines through healing and coping through Equine Assisted Psychotherapy & Personal Development.
Due to COVID, this will not be considered a public event.
"This is all new to us," Silva said. "I do hope that when COVID rolls over, we can open up to the public for those who truly need the help.