Horses have long been praised for their ability to relieve stress and bring happiness to those working with them. These animals are often used in therapy for people with dementia and autism to bring happiness and teach patience, and many organizations are starting to use horses to teach a different concept: empathy. A growing number of organizations that work with youthful offenders or recent parolees are starting to incorporate horse training into their programs to teach those involved empathy, respect and leadership qualities.
Horses help bring out the gentler side of former inmates
In Green Mountain Falls, Colorado, recent female parolees from Set Captives Free work with older, ailing horses on the Freedom to Victory Ranch to be able to connect with their empathetic side and understand the rewards of helping those less capable than yourself. Apart from caring for the horses, the women in Set Captives Free are taught to balance a checkbook, live on a budget and meet other requirements of living independently, like finding a job and a permanent place to live. Karen Hulbert, a retired accountant, started the nonprofit organization after learning about the difficulties women often face after being released from prison. Hulbert draws from what she calls equine assisted philosophy and encourages the members of her program to care for something other than themselves and use the successes found in that area to gain a better self worth.
"You watch the interaction of the horse and the person," Hulbert said. "We talk about if there's fear, if there's rejection. Whatever might come up. Most of it has come out of abuse. There's always something there – like not feeling like they're worth anything because of their past."
In Geneva, Nebraska a similar program is being used by the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center, a nontraditional school that works with girls in the state's juvenile correctional facilities. At the J Bar D Ranch in Geneva, girls are tasked with training yearlings. The young horses have only been taught to tolerate a harness before the girls are put in charge of their training. The girls involved in the program spent weeks teaching their horses to be proficient on a lead, as well as understanding horse psychology and anatomy. The ranch's owner, Jacki Wilkins, said the program equips the girls with patience and coping skills, as well as how to earn respect from other by being fair and establishing boundaries.