Updated: May 9, 2022
Do you ever meet people who make you feel immediately comfortable? For me, Dr. Hallie Sheade is one of those people. She embodies and personifies the calm, peaceful feeling many of her patients feel out in the pastures of 4Hearts Ranch in Fort Worth. A horse person since the age of two, Hallie has combined her love of all things equine with her talents as a Licensed Professional Counselor and researcher to create S.T.E.P.S. with Horses, an in-demand equine-assisted program for military service members, at-risk youth, and others with mental health needs. If you missed our Awareness Wednesday featuring Dr. Sheade and her program, you can watch the recording on our YouTube channel.
There are many benefits of equine-assisted activities and therapies for people with a variety of disabilities and needs including amputations, ADD, autism, brain injuries, cerebral palsy, stroke, deafness, visual impairment, cognitive and developmental delays, learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, MS, and spinal disorders and conditions (PATH International, 2011). For people suffering from PTSD, therapeutic riding can have a profound impact. A University of Missouri study found positive increases in confidence, self-esteem, sensory sensitivity, and social motivation with a decrease in stress for 29 Vietnam veterans. After three weeks of therapeutic riding, self-reported PTSD scores decreased by 67%, with an 87% drop after an additional three weeks (NewsRX, 2018). People recovering from alcohol or substance abuse, childhood trauma, and depression can develop a strong work ethic, build trusting relationships, and learn to process their feelings through equine-assisted activities (Scharff, 2017).
The S.T.E.P.S. with Horses program fundraises specifically for military veterans and at-risk youth, though they hope to be able to serve anyone seeking an alternative to office-based therapy. According to their website, 20 veterans die by suicide every day and a third of returning veterans experience major depression, PTSD, and probable brain injury. The whole family can be negatively impacted by these and other challenges faced by our heroes. In addition to veterans, more and more children are being hospitalized for thoughts of suicide. While 20% of children have a diagnosable mental health disorder, only a third qualify for public mental health services receive care. As a state, Texas is near the bottom in money spent on health care (stepswithhorses.org).
Therapy is available in a variety of methods, so why use horses? Horses cannot lie or manipulate, and they tend to mirror human emotions. Because they are so large, working with them gives patients an opportunity to build confidence and overcome fear. There are also physiological benefits, such as stress reduction, which benefits a human patient without increasing stress in the animal.
There are many benefits to providing mental health treatment through interaction with horses including: increasing client motivation and attendance; facilitating trust and
rapport between client and counselor; improving interpersonal skills and relationships; developing increased feelings of self-efficacy, empowerment, and resilience; and experiencing physiological benefits through contact with horses that enable clients to be more open and relaxed during treatment.
The presence of the horse(s) helps to increase the client’s sense of emotional safety by decreasing anxiety, increasing openness, and helping the client to express feelings. Interestingly, clients who have a difficult time relating to and forming close relationships with another human being often readily do so with a horse - perhaps because the horse is genuine and non-judgmental. By understanding how their behavior affects the horse, a client can begin to see how their behavior affects others, and ultimately, how it affects others’ response to them. Most importantly, clients look forward to and enjoy coming to their sessions. (stepswithhorses.org)
While insurance covers traditional therapy, many of Dr. Sheade’s clients want to continue working with the horses after their clinical goals have been met. Though there is research to support the benefits of therapeutic riding, it is still considered experimental and investigational by most insurance companies, which means it has to be paid out of pocket. This puts a burden on the families S.T.E.P.S. with Horses aims to help. Hope 4 All is very proud to be a supporter of this exceptional program, and I encourage others to consider them as you make your end of year donations. As a 501c3 nonprofit organization, all donations to S.T.E.P.S with Horses are tax-deductible.
S.T.E.P.S. with Horses has many ways you can support their work. The $5,000 given by Hope 4 All will provide 40 equine-assisted counseling sessions. You can also support their capital campaign, donate automatically when you select them as your chosen charity when shopping through Amazon Smile, or provide in-kind marketing and fundraising support. More information is available on the giving page of their website, or you can access their end-of-year fundraising campaign on their Facebook page.
I look forward to continuing our collaboration with Dr. Sheade and S.T.E.P.S. with Horses. Keep your eye on the blog to learn about more of the organizations Hope 4 All is supporting with our inaugural gifts!