Instead of laying on a couch and talking to a therapist, another option would be to work out your problems in an arena with horses through this fairly new program Serenity Therapeutic Equine Program, or STEP.
The program was started last year by Kristi Schaefer, executive director of STEP, who had been the program director for five years with another organization before opening her own program.
STEP offers therapeutic riding for children with disabilities to learn basic horsemanship skills and they offer equine-facilitated activities for youth, adults, families, businesses and groups, Schaefer explained. They also offer equine-facilitated psychotherapy for youth, adults and families, which is co-facilitated with a licensed mental health professional, and where they get together to work with horses.
Sibley, one of the horses in the Serenity Therapeutic Equine Program, or STEP, is a 12-year-old quarter horse gelding and very easy-going. The horses used for equine therapy must have mellow temperaments since they’re exposed to all types of people. STEP offers therapeutic riding for children with disabilities and equine-facilitated psychotherapy and activities, focusing on respect, trust, leadership, communication, and other qualities to help people.
The equine-facilitated activities and the equine-facilitated psychotherapy programs are both non-riding activities, Schaefer said, and just use communication skills.
All therapies and activities focus on respect, trust, leadership, communication, problem-solving, self-worth, confidence, team-building, and having fun in a safe environment.
The horses used in the therapy program at STEP are of any breed, Schaefer said. There are quarter horses, paints and Arabians currently in the program, and the youngest horse is 11 while the oldest horse is 22 years old. All of the horses have to have good and mellow temperaments, Schaefer added.
There are three horses in the equine therapy program, but there are five horses total in the arena, Schaefer said. Two have been donated and one has been leased from Schaefer, while the other two horses belong to her but are not in the program.
The mental health professional decides what kind of issue would be best suited for equine therapy, Schaefer said. Mainly, it's for youth who have trouble opening up, she said, but also has been used for eating disorders or suicide or a variety of other issues.
"Working with a horse, you have to build trust which carries over into life," Schaefer said. "Sometimes people are more willing to open up to a horse."
Some people don't fear horses at all and other people fear them too much, she said.
"If people don't like being outdoors or getting dirty, then it's not the type of therapy that's suitable for them," she added.
One of the most rewarding parts to come from working with horses in a therapy program is seeing clients come in with an attitude and then leaving after learning something and learning why people do what they do, Schaefer said.
"Horses mirror human interactions and it's visible with horses because they're bigger," she noted.
Horses have a mind of their own, Schaefer said, so you never know what to expect.
"They keep the client on their toes," she said.
Schaefer hopes people walk away from the equine therapy program knowing there are different ways to look at situations, more than one way to solve a problem, and to have fun.
Schaefer and her husband co-founded STEP, she said, and working with horses was something she always wanted to do.
"Horses helped me get through some tough times," she added.
STEP had an open house on Wednesday as a way for the community to find out about the program and as a way for them to offer their services to more people, Schaefer said. People attending the event could see what STEP offers and see if it's something they'd be interested in or donate money. STEP offers rates on a sliding scale, Schaefer added.
Activities at the open house included some equine-facilitated demonstrations, horse-theme treats like oatmeal raisin cookies and apples, and a presentation about the program and Halo'd Horses. Halo'd Horses is where people sponsor a horse to help defray the cost because STEP wants to offer their program as free as possible, she explained. STEP was also taking registrations at the open house, Schaefer added, and will take 10 to 15 people in a group, less if they're a younger age.
Schaefer said STEP has received a ridership grant from the Optimist Club of Minot as well as grants from SRT and Verendrye.
If people are interested in registering in the program, volunteering, or donating, they can call 509-3645 or send an email. Their website is (www.serenitytep.com). She said STEP also has a wish list on their website for other items they could use in their program.