Copied from a Naples Daily News Article by Andrea Stetson on July 15, 2021
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Horses, improv and counseling might seem like an odd combination, but when put together the resulting smiles show its success.
Naples Therapeutic Riding Center (NTRC), an improv program with The Naples Players and Aim Counseling just completed a four-week program that brought a group of girls to the stables to act out their feelings and emotions with their new equine friends.
“I think we realized that horses can help people, not just physically, but socially and emotionally, so that is how these programs have developed and started to grow,” said Missy Lamont, executive director of NTRC. “And right now, you have to think outside the box because people are suffering in ways they have never suffered before. I just think this is the perfect time to be creative.”
Niamh Kennaugh, a licensed clinical social worker with Aim Counseling Group, is seeing positive results.
Participant Kenzie Evans talks with Amie Thomas of Aim Counseling while working with a horse at The Naples Therapeutic Riding Center
“Our part is to focus on feeling identification, how feelings intensify and how we can move that intensity,” Kennaugh explained. “It has been neat because the girls can identify back to the horse. We talked about when their (horses) ears go back they don’t really like what is happening. It is really neat seeing how the girls week after week are getting more comfortable talking about feelings.”
Kennaugh said most of the children have experienced significant loss in their lives and this unusual therapy is helping them express the emotions associated with that loss.
“A lot of times when we are talking about the feelings piece of the program, they are brushing and grooming,” Kennaugh described. “While doing that, it makes it more comfortable to talk about the feelings.”
Craig Price, director of community education and wellness at the Naples Players, personally saw the benefits of adding horses into the mix.
The horses are incorporated into the program in a variety of ways. One week there was an obstacle course that the girls and horses completed while talking about the sounds, motions and emotions they were sensing.
“Improv is also a great ice breaker,” Price said. “It helps everybody be not so nervous. And introducing the horses helps with that too. The horses really do break the ice. It gives us something to talk about.”
Craig Price and participant Kenzie Evans during an Equine-Assisted Improv Therapy session at The Naples Therapeutic Riding Center
They also break the ice with silly improv horse games such as coming up with gestures to describe each horse.
“We all bowed to Dexter and with Fancy it was all jazz hands and all the kids then came up with gestures to describe themselves,” Price described.
Gina Lawary, 14, enjoyed being part of the new program.
“I like being around the horse because I have a lot of experience with horses,” Gina said. “I like being around the horses because of the feeling they give me: peace and calmness and happiness.”
Her mother, Allyson Lawary, is glad that her daughter is participating.
“I think initially what got us interested is it is a mix of improv and the horses, which she likes,” Lawary said.
Kenzie Evans, 10, loved learning about her horse, working with her horse and simply being with the horse.
“I learned that he likes to help people,” Kenzie said about a horse named Buddy. “He’s very big and I am very small. I like walking around with the horse. I like everything.”
Lamont believes this may be the only program of its kind in the country.
“So, I did Google it to see if any other centers are doing it, and I found a center in England,” she said.
Future equine psychotherapy programs will continue with the Naples Players and other local counselors. NTRC’s biggest program is with children and adults who have special needs. But in recent years the center expanded to include programs for veterans and their families, programs with the David Lawrence Center and The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, bereavement programs with AVOW and Valerie’s House, Path to Freedom for girls that have been part of human trafficking, programs with the shelter for abandoned and abused children and Youth Haven.
The new equine-facilitated psychotherapy and improv is just the latest in this long list of outreach.
“Horses live in the moment, so when you are here the individual who has just lost someone, they are not thinking about that; they are in the moment,” Lamont said. “There are a lot of components going on with this. We are all working together to make this work.”
Gina Lawary and Amy of Aim Counseling talk while Fanny the horse enjoys a few pets at The Naples Therapeutic Riding Center
Those interested in future Equine/Improv programs are encouraged to connect directly with the Naples Therapeutic Riding Center at (239) 596-2988.