When an 8,500 square-foot riding arena is completed on the campus of Boys and Girls Haven, children suffering from trauma won’t have to wait for a pretty day to have equine therapy sessions.
Boys and Girls Haven, founded by the late Father James C. Maloney in 1948, provides care for abused and neglected children who reside on and off the campus located on Goldsmith Lane.
Among the programs offered by the agency is animal-assisted therapy, including equine therapy.
To support that program, the Hope and Haven Riding Arena is under construction on the facility’s campus and is set to be completed in late May. Wind storms earlier in April damaged the emerging structure and delayed completion, said Sarah Jacoby, who serves as an equine specialist on the agency’s campus.
Jacoby said an indoor arena will make year-round therapy sessions possible. And the arena will improve safety as the program expands to include therapeutic riding. Currently, therapy consists of unmounted activities, such as grooming and leading the horses.
The animal-assisted therapy program, housed in a barn on campus, relies on the children and the animals forming a relationship, said Leslie Bratcher, the clinical director. Their connection promotes emotional healing, she said.
In addition to horses, the facility houses dogs, pigs, ferrets, guinea pigs and chickens.
“We use all those animals as an opportunity to teach healthy relationship skills,” Bratcher said. “It helps them realize it’s a real relationship, and the same principles apply when dealing with people.”
Equine therapy works because horses are “prey animals” and the brain of a prey animal is similar to the brain of a child who’s experienced trauma, Bratcher explained. “They are constantly looking for danger. … Children who live in traumatized environments at home are constantly looking for where there might be danger.”
These children typically find it difficult to trust adults and form attachments, but through activities like grooming and leading the horse they learn to trust the animal, she explained. This experience can later be used to develop trust and build relationships with people, Bratcher said.
Jacoby said she’s witnessed how children working with the horses have gained confidence and social skills and overcome anger.
“The relationship with the horse helps them to open up,” she said.
The horses on the campus of Boys and Girls Haven are rescued animals, and at least one of the horses is typically a foster animal. Simply knowing that the horse is in foster care helps the children, too, said Bratcher.
“They realize they’re helping another living being and that it’s helping them, too,” she said.
Boys and Girls Haven houses about 25 children in three cottages on the Goldsmith Lane campus. It also offers services to young adults between the ages of 18-21 in a dorm-style setting on another campus and has an independent living program, said Bratcher. The agency also certifies individuals to become foster parents.To learn more about Boys and Girls Haven, visit https://boysandgirlshaven.org/.