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Changing lives: a new equine therapy is being introduced thanks to a partnership between WindReach Recreational Village and Solstice wellness centre

A globally endorsed equine therapy service, serving a wide range of clients from children who have been through the trauma of sexual abuse to at-risk youth and people dealing with addiction, is about to take root in Bermuda.

WindReach Recreational Village has teamed up with the Solstice wellness centre to introduce the Eagala model using horses in the areas of psychotherapy, personal development and team building.

With the partnership formed, certified Eagala facilitators have been invited to the island to demonstrate the different ways that horses can be utilised in therapy and team building. It is hoped that the sessions, taking place on Friday, September 30, and Saturday, October 1, will attract potential referrers as well as funders so the programme can be extended in the future.

Debi Ray-Rivers, founder and executive director for child sex abuse charity Scars, has already endorsed the programme and hopes to refer some of her clients once it is up and running.

Other areas the model covers include depression and anxiety, grief, substance abuse, trauma and at-risk youth.

Kate Terceira, equine services manager at WindReach, said she was researching programmes to enhance the centre’s existing therapeutic riding services when she came across the ground-based Eagala therapy model that is growing rapidly around the world.

She approached Kelly Madeiros, a clinical social worker, who was interested in the programme for her public-sector clients coming through the mental health court.

Ms Terceira, who is Eagala-certified, told The Royal Gazette: “I saw Eagala advertised online, did some research and realised that it was the accepted model worldwide. I did the first part of the training in Colorado then decided it was definitely something we wanted to pursue as an organisation. I finished part two and got my certification.

“During that time, WindReach had started working with Kelly and we recognised that a lot of her public clients would work well with this model. As we started the conversation, we then realised we needed to work within the private sector as well.”

Executive director and senior clinical psychologist at Solstice Eloise Pitts Crick, who has a background caring for horses, said this form of therapy was relevant to many of her clients.

She said: “It was an easy partnership to see the potential in. I was looking for more experiential- based therapies for some of my clients with backgrounds in areas such as sexual abuse or who had autistic-spectrum disorders — clients who typically found talking therapies difficult.

“There has been a lot of research done around the benefits of animal-based therapy and this builds on that. It was great to find a model that is evidence-based and has a robust theoretical basis.

“It is likely to be effective as an adjunct to regular therapy as well as stand-alone therapy and there are lots of people in Bermuda who we think could benefit from it.”

While the therapy utilises horses, the Eagala model is not a riding therapy and is purely ground- based. Ms Terceira said this was an important distinction to make.

She explained: “We do not ride, because the horses are free to be themselves — they are not being directed in any way. You have the mental health professional, you have your equine specialist, you have the horses, and the clients, and we all work as a team.”

Dr Pitts Crick added: “One of the benefits is that the horses react to you — to your body language cues, and emotional energy you direct towards the horse, so if you are angry, the horse will walk away.

“You quickly get direct feedback about how you affect other people — your contribution to the dynamics — and because it is an animal rather than a person, there seems to be much less projection of these kind of negative feelings and more ability for people to take ownership of them.”

While Ms Terceira and Dr Pitts Crick will be able to launch the programme with their expertise, they hope to expand it to include eight specialists and, if adequate funding is raised, enable some pro bono services for those in financial difficulty.

Ms Terceira added: “We hope training will be running by the end of the year. We have therapists who are interested in doing the training and equine specialists lined up — what we are looking for is to disseminate information about this approach and to see if there is anyone out there who would like to support it.”

It is hoped the free demonstration will attract psychologists, mental health counsellors, social workers, general practitioners, allied health professionals, horse specialists and referring agencies.

The demonstration takes place at WindReach Recreational Village next Friday from 2pm to 4.30pm and the following Saturday from 9.30am to 12pm. There will be refreshments available. Anyone interested in signing up to the demo can e-mail equine@solstice.bm. Donations for the Eagala programme can be made to WindReach HSBC 010857621001.

New equine therapy is being introduced thanks to a new partnership between WindReach Recreational Village and Solstice wellness centre.
Horsing around: Wayne Smith, 35, from the Margaret Carter Centre, feeding the Norwegian Fjord horse named Dusty at the WindReach Therapeutic Horse-Riding Programme