Horse Therapy for Troubled Children

Epoch Times | Mary Silver | May 7, 2013

Sarah Lee, age 8, and Bekah Dirrim, age 9, play with ponies at Barn Buddies. (Kathy Lee/Barn Buddies)

Sarah Lee, age 8, and Bekah Dirrim, age 9, play with ponies at Barn Buddies. (Kathy Lee/Barn Buddies)

Early childhood education specialist Kathy Lee has seven children, five of whom are adopted. One of her daughters seemed to be having a tough time. She rarely smiled, according to Lee.

They started volunteering at Save the Horses, a sanctuary for rescued horses near Canton and Cummings in north Georgia about two years ago. There, her daughter bonded with one horse.

“The horse changed and my daughter changed. My daughter, who was kind of grumpy, now smiles all the time,” said Lee.

That effect is what Lee and Rachel Pate, a teacher and mother, want to offer more children. They run Barn Buddies, equine-assisted therapy for adoptive families and children in foster care. 

“The nine month-long program provides kids ages 8-15 with a haven in their unsettled world and a safe place to experience the unconditional love and joy of an animal,” according to a press release announcing a grant of $1,000 to Barn Buddies from the Pollination Project.

The money is to help them build a barn to expand the program to younger children, ages 4-7. They will keep smaller ponies in a separate place for the smaller children. It will have a different, developmentally appropriate program for the younger ones. There is already a waiting list. The new barn will open this summer.

“The earlier you can help a child attach, the better,” said Lee. Her family started adopting 20 years ago, when people almost always adopted infants. Now families adopt older children more often. Those children have suffered losses and sometimes abuse or neglect. It can be hard for them to trust and to love.

“A lot of these children have what is called reactive attachment disorder,” said Lee. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Reactive attachment disorder is a rare but serious condition in which infants and young children don’t establish healthy bonds with parents or caregivers.” 

At Barn Buddies, “You have both these somewhat wounded animals and children,” said Lee. They can nurture each other in a special way. 

It is a long, patient, journey to help the children develop trust and well-being, according to Lee. Volunteers teach horse safety to children and families and the right way to approach the animals. The animals sometimes choose a favorite person. 

“I have one little Shetland pony who is so patient,” said Lee. That pony had a tough life before coming to the sanctuary and now has an affinity for children. Conversely, a boy who has neurofibromatosis is drawn to a pony that lost both eyes to injury and illness. “He is the most tender child with any horse who has a wound.” It’s as if his illness gave him stronger empathy, said Lee.

CONTINUED – Read more at the Epoch Times

  • Debbie Tracy

    Horses are a miracle to our spirit, our health and so much more, they have a gift that is really unexplainable and this country is turning to slaughter, god almighty, this is a program that we could have more of to reach more children faster… We could set up disabled vet programs also there are so many programs we could set up to help the need for us and horses……

    May 7, 2013
  • Arlene

    There ie absolutely no question in my mind , the horse is a healer of Mind Body and soul, he uses no pills , no gimmicks, he has been blessed with this power, he is who he is !!!!! He is here for many reasons , all of which are needed and wanted , his special abilities set him apart from any other animal , he was created out of Love and respect , trust courage, power, insight wisdom and pride , his magnificent beauty was his demeanor, so this could be recognized easily so as not to be mistaken………………for anything else but wonderful………………..he was not meant to be chastised from greed and jealousy, he was not equipped to to understand it………..because of his perfection he is victim to it ……………

    May 7, 2013
  • RADIGAN’S PLACE in Lake County, Il serves the needs of children and families such as this along with at risk and troubled youth. We also have programs for veterans experiiencing post traumatic stress disorder. Horses heal!!! We need more funding for these programs as the expenses i.e. barns, horses, feed are so very expensive. Please help your local equine therapy center so they can help others!

    May 7, 2013
  • Daryl

    Horses are wonderful in so many ways, they work magic some times. The Lord knew what he did when he made them. this is why we need to save them.

    May 7, 2013