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The pony will see you now: Seaglass offers equine therapy

Kate Terceira, left, and Laura Henagulph with Windreach’s therapy pony Dash (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

When Laura Henagulph and Kate Terceira started offering equine psychotherapy, they prayed that the horses involved would co-operate.

“We so wanted the clients to have a good experience,” said Dr Henagulph, a clinical psychologist at Seaglass Consulting on Reid Street in Hamilton. “We really wanted those horses to perform.”

Animals such as Dash the therapy pony at WindReach Recreational Village in Warwick, are trained to be polite, but they follow their own script.

“The horses are always themselves,” said Ms Terceira, an equine specialist.

Sometimes clients are told to move the horse as part of an exercise and the horse refuses to move. Sometimes the task is to set up an obstacle that represents the problems in the client’s life but the horse will come over and mischievously knock things down. Sometimes the horse defecates or farts loudly just when things are getting deep.

“Not every session is going to be pretty, and not every session is going to be successful,” Ms Terceira said. “Success is a much larger picture than just what’s happening there. The reactions and the frustration – that is what you’re helping the client work through. The horses just need to be there.”

Ms Terceira said the wonderful thing about horses was that they were always present in the moment. They do not have an agenda and they do not judge.

“We looked over one day and one of our clients was standing on the other side of the horse with their arms wrapped around its neck,” Dr Henagulph said. “They were just standing there. All we could see were the client’s feet. We just let them be there in the moment.”

Between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of Seaglass’ patients are children and teens. Many of them are dealing with trauma or learning difficulties. Seaglass recently started a pilot programme using the horses to help young struggling readers.

The horse gives the child a completely non-judgmental reading buddy.

“The intention is to be able to offer this to schools,” Dr Henagulph said. “We go do it with small groups.”

Seaglass also works with adults dealing with mental health issues such as depression, couples who want to strengthen their relationships, and team building groups.

“I worked with a client with early onset Alzheimer’s,” Dr Henagulph said. “They used to come to the stables. You would see their shoulders just drop. They would take this breath as they walked into the barn. You could see them just getting this sense of peace and release from the awful disease that was gripping them.”

Ms Terceira said traditional talk therapy has been on the wane in recent years.

“It could be Covid related,” she said, “but people are really starting to look for different types of therapy. Animals have been able to bridge the gap and give people the ability to find their own answers.”

She ran the therapeutic riding programme at WindReach for 13 years.

“It was through that that I was introduced to equine psychotherapy and fell in love with the modality,” Ms Terceira said. “So I qualified as an equine specialist.”

She met Dr Henagulph six years ago. They ran Theratails, an animal-assisted therapy programme at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, with dog trainer Eileen Thorne. She continues to work with them at Seaglass.

Dr Henagulph started Seaglass in 2019 with her husband Seb Henagulph, a psychiatrist. Initially, things were standard for a boutique practice.

“Patients would be referred to my husband, psychiatrically,” Dr Henagulph said. “He would make his initial assessment, and then he would refer some of them to me. I was also doing a lot of animal-assisted therapy, which followed a global trend towards experiential therapies.”

She did specialist child and adolescent training at the Anna Freud Centre in London. She and Ms Terceira have also just completed training in Long Island, New York, in the Equine Assisted Growth and Learn Association model of equine psychotherapy.

This method embraces the idea that humans learn best by doing. It prescribes a hands-on approach where clients are given the space to project and analyse their situations, make connections and find their own solutions. Since the solutions are personally experienced in conjunction with intellectual understanding, they tend to be deeper, more profound and longer lasting.

It is a team approach, so there is always a mental health professional and an equine specialist working together with the client and horses.

“We believe that people can find their own answers,” Ms Terceira said. “And the animals act as a conduit for that. Horses are herd animals, they have distinct personalities. They have relationships with other horses, not dissimilar to humans.”

Using animals tends to quickly break down the barriers between client and therapist.

“I am usually covered in horse hair and have a big hat rammed on my head,” Dr Henagulph laughed. “It is very levelling.”

The atmosphere is relaxed, and there are often lots of laughs during a session.

Feeding the horses and cleaning up their poop when things are done, is all part of the job for horse therapy team.

They do not mind as they have both loved horses their whole lives.

Dr Henagulph said one of the reasons it worked so well was that being around horses stimulated the senses.

“There is the smell of a horse, the feel of a horse, the feeling the mane, the feel of a brush, the warmth, and the heartbeat, and the energy and the breath and the softness of the nose and the sort of silkiness of the ears, and the movement,” she said. “The fact that you have got something responding to your energy in real time is so powerful.”

Clients do not need to have any prior experience with animals. There is no judgment if they do not know the lingo, and call a hoof, a foot, for example.

“The main thing is to come in with an open mind,” Ms Terceira said.

Seaglass works with horses at WindReach and also at several private stables around Bermuda.

The animal-assisted therapy is covered by most local insurance carriers. To book an appointment, call Seaglass or fill out a referral on their website.

For more information.

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Published August 29, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated August 30, 2023 at 8:12 am)

The pony will see you now: Seaglass offers equine therapy

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