In the soulful eyes of a horse there is an opportunity for growth, learning, and understanding unlike any other therapeutic or educational experience available. For those suffering from a wide range of mental health problems to those dealing with various professional and personal challenges, equine assisted therapy and equine assisted learning programs offered at Take Flight Farms, a non profit organization based in Omaha, Neb. may be the missing element needed to take those in need from one stage of recovery to the next.
Offering a wide range of customized programs, Take Flight Farms serves a diverse group of people from youth to adults putting to work its mission to “develop capable and resilient individuals by incorporating horses into therapeutic and learning programs.”
“People of all ages and those needing assistance for a variety of reasons can benefit from equine assisted psychotherapy or equine assisted learning,” Take Flight Farms Executive Director Gale Faltin said. “From people in bereavement, those dealing with substance abuse, victims of domestic violence, to those with anger management issues, anxiety, depression, and a variety of other behavioral issues. . . equine assisted therapy can really make a difference.”
Unlike most animals, Faltin explains that horses have the ability to mirror exactly what human body language is telling them, so horses provide great opportunities for metaphor and lessons about oneself that help to facilitate change.
“Horses experience a large variety of emotions, just like we do. “They are very intuitive, social animals and each has their own personality and moods,” Faltin said. “Because of these similarities to humans, horses actually demonstrate and teach self awareness, honest communication, trust, patience, healthy boundaries, leadership, and so much more.”
As an alternative form of therapy, equine assisted therapy helps clients move beyond conventional therapy by approaching recovery from a different angle. Cindy Vaccaro, Take Flight Farms assistant director explains that for some it is easier to bond with a horse rather than a person, so the human-horse interaction helps people face the things that need to be dealt with most.
“For a lot of people verbalizing what is going on with them is extremely difficult or not even possible, and for kids who have been through a lot of trauma, it’s really difficult to bond with another human being,” Vaccaro said. “Equine therapy brings a person’s problems to the surface so they are able to look at the issues and really begin to take the steps to resolve them.”
As one of only four Distinguished Program Members of EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association), across the nation, Take Flight Farms adheres to stringent requirements to maintain its credentials. Staff members, including certified mental health professionals, are all accredited through EAGALA and participate in hours of continuing education workshops and conferences to stay up to date on the latest techniques in equine assisted therapy and learning. This dedication to learning is an accomplishment that Take Flight Farms is not only proud of, but says is what sets TFF apart from other organizations.
The EAGALA model is based on a team approach. A licensed mental health professional and an equine specialist work hand-in-hand with the client in a group or one-on-one setting. The role of the therapist is to observe what’s taking place between the client and the horses and bounce that information back to the client using questions and observation statements. The specific format of each session is based on the needs of the client; however, actual riding of the horses is not part of equine assisted therapy.
Vaccaro explains that once a person begins to truly understand the power of equine assisted therapy, the desire to ride goes away. “Anybody can ride a horse, whether it be at a farm or venue that offers horse rides for a fee; very few people get the opportunity to be on equal footing with a horse and be able to look them in the eyes and build a relationship with them – that’s a very special opportunity,” Vaccaro said.
“Often a group that you think might be the hardest to reach, the kids with maybe a little tougher exterior who come in thinking that ‘this is stupid’ or saying that they ‘hate horses’, are the kids who by the end of the program are fighting over which horse they get to work with, are hanging on their horses necks giving it hugs and kisses. It’s a sight to see,” Vaccaro said. “I think we paint a certain picture in our minds of what these kids are like when they have what I call a harder edge, so to see them softened by a horse, that’s a pretty big shift.”
In additional to therapy programs, Take Flight Farms also offers equine assisted learning sessions designed to aid in personal and professional development. These programs shift the focus from therapy to education and offer opportunities to learn about team work, leadership, and personal growth.
Take Flight Farms has worked with college sports teams, elementary school classes, and a variety of corporate groups offering specialized programs to address needs specific to the group. Recently TFF teamed up with the Respite Care Center to offer a unique program for caregivers that not only allowed for respite, but helped caregivers “find themselves again” as Faltin says.
“There are no limits to the work we do,” Faltin said. “It was truly an honor to be able to work with caregivers through the Respite Care Center and phenomenal to witness the change in people and to see them ‘rediscover’ themselves. This [equine assisted therapy and equine assisted learning] could benefit anybody from corporate America to an individual child coming in – and that’s the truth.”
To learn more about equine assisted therapy and equine assisted learning visit http://www.takeflightfarms.org or contact Cindy Vaccaro at 402.930.3037.