Henderson nonprofit puts therapy in the saddle
HENDERSON – Tucked just into the outskirts of Henderson is an emotional, spiritual oasis.
Grace Children’s Home provides equine-assisted therapy for children suffering trauma. “They’re living with the consequences of decisions made for them,” said Mark Danielson, Executive Director of Grace Children’s Home. Danielson’s passion for helping children comes from his pastoral background, Ph.D. in leadership and human development, and – of course – his lifelong love of all things equine. “I learned horses give you a safe place, and a place to escape some of the chaos of the world,” Danielson said. “When you’re riding it’s pretty hard to think about what’s troubling you at the moment.”
Danielson estimated Grace Children’s home has given about 200 sessions among 20 children in the last six months. There have been scores of sessions and children – many foster children – who have stepped into Grace Children’s Home’s ring over the course of its existence. One child, though, rode her way into the Danielson family’s hearts and home. Cheyenne, now a ninth-grader at Heartland Community Schools, was once a child without a safe place. Abandoned by her parents at an early age, Cheyenne is one of Grace Children’s Home’s biggest success stories – and one of the Danielson’s most beloved. Thanks to the love of her family, her inner strength and the power of equine therapy, Cheyenne can pay it forward, helping with Grace Children’s Home’s equine therapy.
Danielson said part of equine therapy’s effectiveness comes from horses’ natural response to a person’s emotions, which is apparent through the horse’s body language, such as head position or giving a gentle nudge, he points out. “Horses are able to reflect the personality of the rider,” Danielson said. “The horse allows this reflectiveness to see yourself in the horse.”
Danielson, who personally trains and supervises the horses, said he’s noticed over the course of Grace Children’s Home’s existence equine therapy’s effect on reducing disruptions and outbursts in foster or adoptive homes – giving children suffering trauma a better chance of being united with families, much like Cheyenne has been with the Danielson’s.
Each child’s abilities are taken into consideration before and during the program, which is adjusted accordingly. Initial therapy sessions include preparing a horse for usage: catching, haltering, grooming, bridling, saddling and feeding. Some of the therapy can seem simple, like riding without hands, but the benefits far exceed the perceived simplicity. Mindfulness and developing trust are major tenets of the program. “You’ve got to come into a center – a safe place,” Danielson said. “When a child is on the horse’s back he’s really taking that child to a place of safety.”
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