By Shannon Traphagen
Equine therapy (horse therapy) has been around for years, but continues to grow in popularity due to the healing nature of working with a horse. “Horses aren’t born with saddles, you have to honor the horse, and the horse will honor you,” explained Maggie Keller, Program Director at Lothlorien Therapeutic Riding Center in East Aurora, NY.
Lothlorien, an affiliate of People Inc., has been operating as a therapeutic riding center for more than 30 years. The goal of their programs is to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for individuals with disabilities. Equine therapy can help individuals achieve physical, occupational, developmental, and speech goals — along with cognitive and mood benefits. However, more recently Lothlorien has opened up their programming to include COVID/anxiety women’s groups, and veterans programming through the Wounded Warriors Project.
I have ridden horses on and off for most of my life. As an adult, any time I have been under stress or anxiety, I’ve turned to horses and riding to help. I’m not alone in my thinking that working with horses can reduce anxiety, and help calm the nervous system.
A study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that equine-assisted therapy reduced riders’ anxiety and helped them recover more quickly from a traumatic event. This is the exact goal at Lothlorien. “Horses are prey animals so they have to use a different form of power in order to not only survive, but thrive. They’ll choose relationships over territory, cooperation over competition, and inner intuition over logic. They can really connect with people, and guide us back to our inner GPS,” said Keller.
Most of what the center focuses on is therapeutic riding for those with special needs, and what Keller calls “groundwork” for those experiencing PTSD as a result of trauma. “With our veterans and women’s groups, we really focus on pairing the right mare with the right person, so that their personalities complement each other. There’s no riding for these groups. Instead, they work alongside the horses. We also train clients to work on boundaries — theirs and the horses. Horses are so instinctual; they can read body language and feel a rider’s energy.”
Keller says meditation is also used to get clients comfortable with a horse, and some have even had the experience of the horse lying down near them during a session. “It’s so profound to witness, when a horse responds to a veteran’s energy and suddenly lays down. The look on the client’s face — they reconnect with a part of themselves they thought they lost or had bottled- up,” said Keller.
For children and adults with special needs (up to age 89), it’s a different kind of connection. Whether cerebral palsy, autism, or other diagnosis, equine therapy can provide a sense of mobility, provide strength training and coordination, help with language, verbalization, and thought processing, and reduce anxiety.
“All of our programming truly gives the gift of bonding and healing with an eloquent and majestic animal. And the horses receive the same healing benefits.”
If you’d like to learn more, donate, or volunteer, visit www.lothlorientrc.org or call 716-655-1335.