Many of our readers will remember our story on Jessica Rekos, one of the students at Sandy Hook Elementary who loved horses, back when the Newtown, CT shooting first took place. We here at Habitat for Horses arranged for plush horse toys to be given to police officers and other emergency responders to aid future victims of violence – to be a source of comfort when all seems lost. There is a special bond between horses and humans…especially children. Equine assisted therapy groups are offering help for those who still live in the shadow of that dark day. ~ HfH
In the year since the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, Patterson horse farm owner Joan Cleary has headed regularly to stables in Sandy Hook to offer people affected by the tragedy equine assisted psychotherapy.
Cleary, the New England networking coordinator for the international Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, is part of several teams offering the free service to Sandy Hook families, students, school staff and first responders.
This past year, they have provided 100 sessions to 18 families at three horse farms in Sandy Hook — Zoar Stables, Relatively Stable and the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard — and the effort will continue, Cleary said.
“We are committed to ongoing care for as long as they need it,” said Cleary, who owns Rocking Chair Farm in Patterson.
Annette and Brian Sullivan of Zoar Stables formed the nonprofit Embrace Hope Foundation after the school massacre to provide the equine assisted psychotherapy sessions.
Most of the clients for the service, which involves using toys and horses to create safe places, have been children, Cleary said. The sessions, unlike therapeutic riding, take place on the ground. The feedback has been positive, Cleary said, with parents saying that their children who participated were less argumentative and sleeping better.
The sessions have dwindled in recent months, Cleary said. But as the anniversary of the tragedy approaches, the group is looking to get the word out that they are still offering the service.
“Trauma can remain latent for an indeterminate amount of time and often can be triggered by the holiday season as families gather and the loss becomes more tangible,” said Lynn Thomas, a licensed clinical social worker and Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association’s founder and executive director. “Because horses are intuitive and non-judgmental, they provide an emotionally safe environment in which to process and heal, helping clients of all ages become more engaged in the therapeutic process.”