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Interview: Equine therapy for adolescents with emotional and behavioral issues

January 6, 2017 Comments Off on Interview: Equine therapy for adolescents with emotional and behavioral issues

Q&A Featuring Austin Day, Certified Equine-Assisted Psychotherapist at White River Academy

Austin Day, M.Ed.

Equine therapist

Austin Day holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Southern Utah University, and a master’s degree in education and education administration. He is also a certified equine-assisted psychotherapist. Austin Day’s life revolves around teaching and a deep love of horses. He has spent his entire life riding, participating in rodeos and showing horses. With more than 40 years of experience, Austin Day’s married his love of horses with teaching and educating youth, by creating experiences that will last a lifetime. He agrees with the heartfelt adage, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

Equine therapy, also known as equine-assisted therapy is considered to be a powerful experiential treatment for helping improve outcomes and functioning of adolescents with emotional and behavioral problems. Equine therapy is offered to male adolescents attending White River Academy. We asked Mr. Day to discuss the equine therapy program offered to adolescent boys at White River Academy and some of the benefits young people experience from participating in this experiential therapy during their stay.

Question: Can you tell me about the equine therapy program offered to adolescents at White River Academy?

Answer: The equine program at White River Academy is a voluntary program that the boys submit to attend.  They participate in various equine and bovine activities. These activities may include individual exercises as well as group exercises. Through the care and interaction with the animals the students are able to work through a wide array of issues and problems by creating trusting relationships with their equine partners.

Q: What are some of the main objectives of equine therapy?

A: One of the main objectives of the equine therapy program is to allow these young men to find acceptance in a non-judgmental, non-threatening environment. They learn to experience success and the accomplishment of reaching goals. The program allows them to build self confidence and to learn to be assertive in reaching those goals.

Q: How does equine therapy help improve adolescents’ relationships that they have with themselves as well as other people?

A: By interacting with the horses, students are in a non threatening environment where they can implement relationship building skills with a partner that is very non-judgmental.  They have the opportunity to gain skills in building relationships with the horses, which the majority of communication is done non-verbally, as opposed to verbally with people. Through methods of pressure and release as well as some verbal cues the boys are able to relate their new relationships and skills by applying them to relationships within the community and with their peers.  By dealing with frustration and anger issues they have a hard time projecting that to a horse and quickly realize they have to address it within themselves.

Q: What are some of the skills that adolescents learn during equine therapy?

A: Our program is designed to take a student who has never interacted with horses, from grooming and care of the animals to saddling, bridling and horsemanship. They learn responsibilities and caring for something besides themselves. In addition, they learn the importance of commitment and following through with specific tasks.

Q: In what other ways is equine therapy beneficial for young people with emotional and behavioral problems?

A: It allows them to relate to something much bigger than themselves.  Most problems that we see are in the form of relationships, or lack thereof, and communication problems between peers and parents as well as trust issues resulting in some type of addiction. Everything in the world of these adolescents revolves around them being the center. Equine therapy gives them an environment and perspective of building trust and relationships between something in general, that is very foreign to them. They are able to create a working relationship with an animal that they have the opportunity to serve and learn to trust.

Q: What is unique about equine therapy offered at White River Academy? 

A: The horses and their unique personalities are one of our greatest assets.  We have a wide array of horses with different temperaments and skill sets that allow the adolescents to work through a wide range of issues and problems.  We have something almost all can relate to in various aspects. Since horses are a herd animal, it allows students to see the various relationships within the herd and create similarities in roles that are created in personal relationships.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges when treating teens with emotional and behavioral issues, and how does equine therapy help to address some of these issues?

A: Trust is the biggest issue that we see. It is so rewarding to see teens build a trusting, working relationship with the horses to complete task after task and watching their confidence grow. To go from being scared to death of a horse to being totally comfortable and trusting that the horse will take care of them is simply poetry in motion.

White River Academy’s male adolescent facility in Delta, Utah, provides specialized treatments for adolescents ages 12 to 17 years who have emotional and behavioral issues. To learn more about equine therapy offered at White River Academy, visit www.whiteriveracademy.com. For more information and inquiries about this article, contact the author at news@sovhealth.com.


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We would like to thank all the wonderful staff at WRA for the great parent weekend. We enjoyed it and felt that we learned valuable insights on Positive Peer Culture and the values we must have and the importance of family commitment to each other...

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