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All testimonials are used with consent by the author, participant and/or the participant's family.

BLUE"Thanks to the Medicine Horse Center I have gained a confidence I never dreamed I could possess. I was able to incorporate the skills I was learning into my life and help me cope with stressful situations that would arise. My breakthrough took place when one of the horses I was working with began walking along side me and I noticed I was leading him without the lead rope. Now, this may not sound like much but for me it was remarkable. Especially since I have never had any experience with horses and have been afraid of them since I was a little girl. Yet, this beautiful animal accepted me as his leader. Suddenly my posture changed dramatically and I was walking with my head held high. You see, when I first arrived I had very low self-esteem and was just going through the motions so to speak, with no real goals in life for myself. I felt lost, lonely and confused. One horse in particular I felt a close bond with and somehow he connected with me on an emotional level. When I was sad, he could sense it and was there to comfort and give me the needed support.

Now, I am feeling positive about my life and my family. My relationships are improving and I laugh a whole lot more! Finally, I feel capable of doing things I never thought possible before. Also I am finding out what things I excel at and have viable goals to reach out for! However, it is not over for me. My journey of self-discovery has just begun and will continue. I highly recommend this program for anyone who is struggling out there. It is unlike any therapy you'll ever experience but you won't regret it!

I wish to thank Barb, Trish, and Katie for their understanding and support. And I can't forget to thank my two favorite horses, Blue and Elvin." ~Corina

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"The Medicine Horse Program has far exceeded my expectations. In just a few short weeks, my daughter has become much more confident and trusting of others. The family session was the most empowering experience I have ever been through. It unlocked the doors of communication for us and allowed me to see a very special side to my daughter. The program facilitators provide a warm and nurturing environment for the girls. And the wise and gentle nature of the magnificent horses can be felt immediately." ~Beth Varga

Medicine Horse is invaluable for the positive qualities that it brings out in students. It offers the unique opportunity to work with such an incredible animal that demands respect, requires assertiveness, and responds greatly to calm energy. It is truly amazing to watch students with behavior problems at school, or shy introverted students, or students with ADHD transform into different people around the horses. This program helps demonstrate to the students, that they can be all these things (calm, assertive, and respectful). ~Ellie Rathje, MSW, school social worker

Through Medicine Horse I witnessed individuals who lack adequate self-confidence gain a positive and more powerful sense of self, I have seen overbearing adolescents gain a substantive grasp of their social environs, and I have stood in complete awe at the changes this program has had upon my students. Further, the staff at Medicine Horse is compassionate, flexible, and knowledgeable. It is clear that the staff love their role, it is clear that they yearn to foster the horse/human connection that makes this program so valuable, and it is clear that our time at Medicine Horse has had a notable and lasting impact upon both myself and my students - and for that I am truly thankful. ~ Chad Novak, school counselor

I am writing this letter in strong support of the Medicine Horse Program in Durango, Colorado. I am a school social worker and last spring I was given the opportunity to take a group of middle school students to the Medicine Horse program for 6 weeks.  The students that attended were all kids that struggled in school, both academically and socially, had low self esteem, difficulty with self awareness, had challenging home lives, and were of a low socioeconomic status, etc… They were students that would have never had the chance to participate in a program like this if it weren’t for the grant money that allowed them to attend free of cost.  The changes I saw in the kids while they were at Medicine Horse were day and night compared to the behaviors they displayed in school.  They were excited, enthusiastic, focused, and had a great attitude.  I feel the important things they took away from the program were increased confidence in their ability to learn something new, higher self-esteem, greater ability to take risks, and increased awareness of how their behavior affected other people.  The students felt a great connection with the staff and for many it was a chance for them to have access to a caring and trustworthy adult.  Although the social and emotional benefits of the program are immeasurable, I feel there is a direct correlation between the social emotional health of a student and their academic success at school.  This program positively impacts the social and emotional health of the students that are able to be a part of this wonderful program.  ~Faith Standifer, MSW, school social worker


Therapy on horseback
Durango Herald, May 2008

By Dale Rodebaugh

If you're looking for an honest opinion, a friend or family member may boost your ego, but a horse will level with you.

That's the reasoning behind the growing field of equine therapy, according to Trish Lemke at the Medicine Horse Center in the Animas Valley.

The presence last week of a half dozen students from Escalante Middle School at the center, located at Riversong Ranch in the Animas Valley, bears her out. The students were there for two hours of experiential learning - defined as getting in touch with yourself and others.

There's no better way than through horses, Lemke said. The youngsters start and end their weekly session with a brief "focus" meeting in a teepee near the ranch arena and stables. Last week, before they groomed and took their mounts to the arena, the topic was trust - self trust and trust in their partner and their horse, Lemke said.

They discuss what they've learned in the post-ride recap, Lemke said.

"We're working on social skills and building self-confidence," said Chad Novak, a counselor at Escalante. "I've seen a lot of changes since we began five weeks ago. Our principal, Amy Kendziorski, is a strong believer that meaningful education experiences happen outside the classroom."

Escalante's pilot project at the Medicine Horse Center ends in a week, Novak said. But the school administration hopes to have two 12-week sessions next year - one in the fall, the other next spring.

The horse, one of human's oldest companions, has come to the fore in recent years as a means of building relationships and strengthening self-awareness that transcends species.

Horses, therapists say, are a stand-in for humans because they have individual personalities and moods and respond to humans in the same manner as they're approached by people. They meet aggressiveness with resistance, calmness with equanimity, gentle assertiveness with cooperation.

Equine therapy doesn't teach horsemanship but helps people develop trust, self-esteem and self-control, confidence, communication and assertiveness, therapists say.

"A horse is a great mirror," said Barb Wolfe, a licensed therapist who works with the Medicine Horse Center. "The horse shows people a lot about themselves."

"This is a wonderful program because it helps you get in touch with horses and feel good about yourself," said sixth-grader Deanna Hutton, 11, who is not new to horses. "Horses cheer me up." Deanna is the daughter of Marty Kay and Craig Hutton.

Tyson Young, a 14-year-old eighth-grader, was equally as enthusiastic.

"Horses have different personalities," said Tyson, who is the son of Mindy and Shane Young. "I'm real active so I connect better with Brooke (a thoroughbred mare). She doesn't need a halter."

In the arena last week, the students mounted steeds with only minimum tack - a bareback pad and a halter. Lemke explained that without a saddle, students feel more connected to their mount.

At the end of the session, Tyson hugged the neck of his horse.

"We tell them we've had a really good time," Tyson said. "We hope to see them again."

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