Horse Power Therapeutic Horsemanship Program

January 2008
Celebrates 20 memorable years. Horse Power Therapeutic Horsemanship Program at Pony Farm, located in Temple, New Hampshire,
is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year.

The program provides courage, hope, and self-confidence for those coping with physical, emotional or learning challenges. Focusing on the healing bond between horses and humans, it brings smiles and laughter, as well as tangible therapeutic results, to riders of all backgrounds who are in need of the exceptional type of encouragement that comes from equine therapy.

 Since Isabella “Boo” McDaniel, Horse Power’s Executive Director, founded the program in 1988, it has grown into one of the largest professional therapeutic horsemanship programs in New England, having served over 3,000 riders.

Boo is also the owner and operator of Pony Farm, a specialty summer and winter riding camp and riding school that has been in operation for 36 years. The farm bustles with activity year-round: annually, Horse Power conducts two ten-week sessions, an eight-week summer session, plus two horse shows. In addition to Horse Power, Pony Farm hosts family weekends, carriage driving programs, an equine massage program, clinics, conferences, workshops, and a summer horse show series.

“As the founder, I would love to have Horse Power’s signature dish be known as equine mental health,” says Boo. Horse Power specializes in teaching riding and horsemanship to kids or adults who have been physically or sexually abused; children who are in foster care, who have reactive detachment disorder, or who are bullies or have been bullied are groups that can benefit tremendously from therapeutic horsemanship. Horse Power teaches frustration tolerance, anger management, and helps individuals to deal with grief and loss.

So what makes Horse Power unique? “More traditional therapeutic horsemanship has been for people with physical and cognitive challenges, such as Cerebral Palsy and Down Syndrome,” explains Boo. “For twenty years, Horse Power has been bringing mental health to the forefront of the field of therapeutic riding by pooling together people who are interested in horses and healing.” Not only do Horse Power students ride the horses, they also drive, vault and do natural horsemanship, depending on the diagnosis and treatment goals.

The trained and trusted horses at Horse Power serve as quintessential catalysts and partners for many types and levels of therapy. “We offer Horse Power in an encouraging and safe atmosphere where success and fun are built into each and every lesson,” says Boo. “An indispensable part of therapeutic riding is the human bond that is formed between riders, caring and qualified instructors, and the dedicated volunteers who side-walk, lead horses, and lend helping hands and encouragement.”

The Horse Power Instructor Training School (HPITS) offers a unique opportunity because it is the first nationally approved instructor training site in the United States (“and possibly the world!” adds Boo) which specializes in Equine Facilitated Mental Health and Equine Experiential Learning. Furthermore, HPITS offers a blend of North American Riding for the Handicapped (NARHA) certification, Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association (EFMHA) prerequisites for future certification, and the training and skills needed to successfully achieve certification with the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) and Centered Riding, Inc. In addition to offering a ten-week HPITS session in which instructors become certified after completing the program and passing a written examination, Horse Power offers an Intensive Program. This ten-day course is one in which instructors, therapists, administrators, and farm owners can get a glimpse of what EFMHA training entails (although participants do not get certified after completing this program).

Kim Thom, a recent graduate of Horse Power’s ten-week Instructor Training School, traveled from Alberta, Canada, with the intention of gaining the skills and background knowledge necessary to begin her own equine therapy program for youth at risk. “The mental health aspect of Horse Power was what drew me to this program,” says Kim. “It is the only program in North America that focuses on both cognitive, emotional, and physical disabilities.” HPITS is an intense program that involves a lot of classroom learning as well as hands-on working with clientele with a wide range of disabilities. The courses and readings deal with background information on a great range of mental and physical disabilities.

“Not having studied this particular subject area in college,” says Kim, “Horse Power was the tip of the iceberg for my future career aspirations.” Kim explains that HPITS gave her a wonderful introduction to the world of equine mental health, providing her with enough information on the theory part of mental health disorders to differentiate specific disorders and know how equine therapy can help these specific individuals. “I learned how to know the difference between Bipolar and Multiple Personality Disorder,” says Kim. “Having worked with at-risk youth for two years, I deal a lot with these two specific disorders.”

So what is in store for the future of Horse Power? In 2008, Horse Power has plans to start an Equine Faciltated Psychotherapy program in which in-depth psychotherapeutic sessions will be conducted at the farm. “The emphasis will not be on riding, but handling horses and using metaphors for horses,” explains Boo. Equine facilitated psychotherapy takes the trauma survivor through a series of activities that explore and modify the student’s reactions to triggering emotions like anxiety, fear, and anger.

HPITS graduate Kim Thom aspires to model her youth at risk program after Horse Power. Kim intends to incorporate the therapeutic benefits of working with horses in her work with at risk youth in the future. “Ultimately, I would like to work in a partnership with a psychotherapist, social worker, and other health care professionals,” says Kim.

In the future, Horse Power also hopes to partner with NARHA and local people and begin what has now become a new national initiative called Horses for Heroes. “This program is a parenting and reunification program that focuses on the families of soldiers returning from Iraq. Parents returning from war oftentimes do not really know their kids because they have not been around to see them grow up,” Boo articulates. “This program will be a fun, wonderful experience that families can share.”

Soldiers who have suffered concussive head injuries and amputations are tremendously assisted in their physical and cognitive health by therapeutic horsemanship. “The 3D gait of a horse simulates 3D motion of walking, and it teaches the riders balance,” explains Boo. Riders can develop their strength and muscles as they connect with their horse and with nature. “And it sure beats physical therapy!”

Other aspirations that Boo has for Horse Power and Pony Farm’s future include beginning a Farm Animal and Gardening Program. Over the course of the past twenty years, Horse Power has achieved an honorable leadership role in educating professionals in the fields of therapeutic horsemanship and mental health. There truly is no limit to the benefit that our four-legged therapists can offer.

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