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Highland nonprofit offers free equine-assisted therapy to help veterans facing mental health issues

By Jenny Guzman, KSL | Posted - Nov. 18, 2019 at 10:22 a.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — In an effort to provide sustainable and effective therapy options for veterans facing mental health issues, Courage Reins has amped up its therapeutic program.

This 20-year-old nonprofit organization at 5870 W. 10400 North in Highland has been using equine-assisted therapy to help children and adults who face mental, emotional and physical challenges.

Its newest program gives military personnel and veterans an alternative to psychotherapy, which usually involves face-to-face interactions with a therapist.

“The model that we're using is an evidence guided model. There's been a lot of research using this model in conjunction with veterans, and they've had a lot of success with it," said Katie Celaya, director of therapeutic horsemanship at Courage Reins. "It's different than talk therapy. It is an experiential therapy."

The Eagala therapy model, an acronym for Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, is a method used to help clients face and work through issues alongside horses.

These animals have an intuitive nature that allows them to read the nonverbal cues of the people around them, which helps the therapist understand how to approach their client.

“The therapist is not dictating the answers, the therapist is helping facilitate an experience that helps the person find the answers to the issues that they're dealing with," said Will Marriott, executive director for Courage Reins. "So it's a really neat opportunity to allow the person to find metaphors to the situation of horses and to understand themselves better through interaction with horses.”

This new equine-assisted psychotherapy model is specifically catered to individuals in and from the armed forces who are dealing with mental health issues such as, but not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder, survivor’s guilt, family conflict, grief and traumatic brain injuries.

The model is ground-based, meaning there is no actual riding. The horses involved are highly trained with a licensed mental health professional and equine specialist close by at all times.

This “action” based therapy is said to be effective for individuals who were in the armed forces. Positive effects of this technique include “regained trust, strengthened relationships, deeper understanding of mental processes, identification of external triggers, and improved communication,” as stated on Courage Reins’ website.

“Having the space to explore what's happening in front of you, seeing the horses move and change as they really start to mirror those things in your life that you're stuck trying to figure out; I think that’s the reason that it's so successful, (because) it is unintrusive,” Celaya said.

A new grant given to Courage Reins is what is allowing them to offer this program for free to help veterans overcome any mental health issues they might be facing.

More information about the program and equine-assisted therapy can be found on its website: couragereins.org.

“It’s a really neat experience. It's probably not for everybody, but it is definitely a valuable and effective approach to therapy and mental health therapy that I think is really powerful,” Marriott said.

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Jenny Guzman

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