A little goes a long way
As her paintbrush strokes the shiny, smooth coat of the miniature horse, the child is calm and happy. She picks red because it was the favorite color of her recently deceased loved one. Art therapy has been used in child health for many years, but the medium of art on horses is especially appealing to children. Just ask Joyce Fiaccone, house parent at Texas Baptist Children’s Home (TBCH), who brings girls from TBCH to Northwind Farm in Hutto for weekly horse therapy.
The farm was founded by Betty Will in 2007 with a large donation by Kim Turk, owner of Camp Agape, a bereavement camp for children. It is a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization with eight trained horses, half of which were born on the property. Northwind sometimes collaborates with licensed professionals of For the Love of Christi, a Williamson County nonprofit that provides free grief support.
Although Northwind Farm provides free services to anyone who needs help dealing with grief, emotional distress, or certain disorders, most clients are children. Each child is paired with a mini, and the outcome is a friendship bond. Betty, who personally trains each horse, teaches horse care to children from group homes and foster homes and to special education students. The children learn horse safety, rules of the barn, grooming basics, and basic verbal commands.
How does equine therapy help children dealing with devastating issues such as death, divorce, and disease? Loving and caring for the horses gives children a reprieve from personal issues and enables them to shift their focus away from their problems by giving them a higher purpose. “All of our children walk a little taller as they leave the farm, knowing that they were able to successfully take care of a horse, albeit a miniature one,” Joyce says.
Children also learn communication by watching the horses, which rely on body language to get along in a herd environment—just as people display body language to get along in society. Kids learn that an angry horse, for example, wrinkles a tense eye; in the same way, kids learn to read the facial expressions and body language of the people around them—such as parents—whose expressions signal whether they need some space or a hug.
Horses also mirror the children’s feelings. “I have learned that horses have a unique ability to mimic the personalities and issues of the children that work with them,” Joyce says. Betty recalls an angry, upset client whose usually compliant horse sensed her mood and was uncooperative. A volunteer suggested that the girl think about how her feelings might be affecting the horse. The girl tried again, this time in a different frame of mind, and the horse responded positively. The session ended on a good note. “That helps the children express and deal with their own feelings,” Joyce says.
And that’s what it’s all about. There’s something comforting and empowering in the knowledge that others feel the same way we do. This realization teaches us that we’re not alone.
Hutto, TX 78634