It’s no question that, at the Beartooth Mtn. Ascent, equine therapy is a large part of our program. We believe that healing can take a greater place in one’s life with the help of an animal. We have seen changes in behavior for the better first hand, as boys learn to trust a being that they’re unfamiliar with and build a bond with a living creature that can’t talk to them in the same way as their mentors or peers. Whether they’re feeding and grooming, or riding out on the range, every moment spent with a horse can be a chance to learn. This is why we use equine therapy is a tool to help young men personally reflect on themselves and their continued journey.
Understanding the Horse and Themselves
Young boys usually come to us in a state of genuine frustration and anger. They feel threatened to be away from a home they’ve always known. They may even feel betrayed by their families that have only sent them to Beartooth Mtn. Ascent, even though their family just wants safety and security to their child. They often feel trapped, alone, and frightened.
Much like the horses, they will come to better understand that their natural instinct when they first arrive is to “fight or flight”. Like a horse even in the safety of a herd, when faced with danger or fear, the horse will either act to fight off the “attack” with all its might or choose to fley out of genuine fear. It can take boys days or even weeks to settle into a place of calm. But that instinct to stay in fight or fley out of fear is a difficult reaction to let go of.
Finding Common Ground
As they get to know the horses at the ranch, they’ll begin to see that this same natural instinct exists in each equine. A horse is able to survive in the wild due to this “fight or flight” reaction. Even the greatest natural horseman won’t be able to cull that instinct out of the horse, nor should they. But through a kind hand, patience, and communication on the horse’s level, each young man can show the horse that they can be trusted.
They’ll show the horse on the ground and in the saddle that they are a leader that won’t put them in harm’s way. And in the same way, each boy must learn to trust the four legs walking for him. It’s in understanding this common ground between horse and rider that a young man can reflect on the journey he’s taking. It won’t always be easy, but the many hours in a saddle are opportune moments to seek spiritual and emotional growth as part of a team with the horse.