As the woman opened the door to the small stable, she released a rush of bright light that seemed to clear the shadows and dust and illuminate the area.
. From left, therapists Danielle Anderson, Andrea Gerth and Emma Kronebusch incorporate horses, such as Fiona, pictured, into their patients’ sessions.
“Well, wells are deep," the woman said of her daughter's troubles. "How did it go?” The woman was directing her question to Andrea Gerth, one of three Winona therapists who incorporate horses in a therapy program facilitated by Counseling Associates, LLC.
Gerth turned to the woman’s daughter smiling, and replied, “She’s awesome — an awesome kid.”
“I could cry then,” the woman said, making good on her announcement as her voice started to quiver slightly. “You know, the only time I’ve ever seen a smile on her face was when she was on a horse. I didn’t know what to do, so…. Thank you.”
At the top of the hill on Gilmore Valley Road, the five horses belonging to Andrea Gerth live together in a stable — Razzy (who is currently pregnant and due about any day now), Fiona, Joker, Hawk, and Cricket. Since June of last year, Gerth, along with Danielle Anderson and Emma Kronebusch, have opened up the doors to her family’s stable and begun to incorporate each of her horses into patient therapy.
Gerth, Anderson, and Kronebusch are all certified by the Equine Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA), and use equine assisted psychotherapy (EAP) and equine assisted learning (EAL).
“It has really been a wide variety,” Gerth said of her clients who have incorporated horses within their therapy. “We’ve had folks come out here that are feeling depressed, have anxiety issues, kids who struggle with behavioral issues or who have trouble focusing and paying attention.”
EAP involves horses for emotional growth and learning through a wide variety of non-mounted activities, meaning that the patients do not physically get on top of a horse or ride it. EAL is similar to EAP, but focuses on educational and organizational development, which can be helpful for working professionals.
“We’ve had clients who really enjoy mindful activities, such as grooming a horse or focusing on what the texture of the horse’s hair is like,” Gerth explained of the different types of interaction between her clients and her horses. “Sometimes [clients] focus on what the horse’s breathing is like and it seems to settle them and their own breathing and heart rate.”
For every client, the interaction and healing process involving a horse, sometimes multiple horses, is different. “It’s an experiential therapy,” Anderson said of EAP. “So, it’s essentially learning by doing. We set up activities to represent life situations for the client — they have a hand in planning their own treatment, and we go from there.”
From the calming mindful exercises mentioned above, to more physical activities, such as setting up and creating obstacles to guide the horse through, the horses can be used to facilitate just about any type of therapy a patient feels they need. The sessions usually last about 50 minutes and most clients come back multiple times, with Kronebusch noting, “I can’t think of a time when it hasn’t been a success.”
“I think one of the things that I like [about EAP] is that it works more quickly,” Anderson said. “It’s pretty thorough versus talk therapy in an office. We [therapists] can get to the root of the issue quicker, and the clients can get their [healing] processing moving along.”
Prior to her work with Gerth’s horses, Anderson was involved with talk therapy with veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, which she noticed was stifling. “I would do talk therapy with them in an office, which can be a long, intense time, but to get out with them and the horses really changed that dynamic. The power differential is gone and the nervous system is engaged on a whole different level.”
Gerth, Anderson, and Kronebusch all say that they hope to be working with horses and patients every day.
“I feel very honored to have the opportunity to bring [healing through working with horses] to other people,” Gerth said.
To learn more about the program call (507) 452-5033.