HSP Organizes New Partnership for Equine Assisted Therapy

Photos of horses to promote Apache horse sanctuary program

The mission of the Highland Support Project is to foster the growth of social capital that enables people to work together to access opportunities and create a better world. One aspect of this endeavor is promoting the values and norms that permit cooperation and seeking the common good.

Adam Smith, the famed Scottish philosopher and author of the Wealth of Nations, also penned the Theory of Moral Sentiments in which he argues that empathy is the critical natural trait that enables humans to achieve civilization and this mirrors a Maya teaching about the importance of harmony for a healthy society.

“There are striking similarities between horses and people,” says Dede Beasley, M.Ed., LPC, an equine therapist at The Ranch, who grew up riding horses and has maintained a private practice counseling individuals, couples, and families for 30 years. “Like people, horses are social beings whose herd dynamics are remarkably similar to the family system.” (1)

It is not a surprise to those who have had a dog or a horse as a friend to learn that herd animals have developed high levels of emotional intelligence that extend beyond the borders of species. Clinical research confirms that animal therapy benefits include:

  • Improved fine motor skills,
  • Improved balance
  • Increased focus and attention
  • Increased self-esteem and ability to care for oneself
  • Reduced anxiety, grief, and isolation
  • Reduced blood pressure, depression, and risk of heart attack or stroke
  • Improved willingness to be involved in a therapeutic program or group activity
  • Increased trust, empathy, and teamwork
  • Greater self-control
  • Enhanced problem-solving skills
  • Reduced need for medication
  • Improved social skills

Because many children, teens, and adults enjoy working with animals, animal-assisted therapy can be particularly beneficial for individuals who are resistant to treatment or have difficulty accessing their emotions or expressing themselves in talk therapy.(2)

The Highland Support Project has initiated a partnership with the Fort Apache Historical Foundation and the Apache Behavioral Services to develop an Equine Therapy program housed in the historic stables that once housed the rides of the famed Buffaloe Solders.

The objective of the program is to offer culturally relevant, holistic therapy alternatives to a population that presents common indicators of historical trauma.

While we are in the beginning stages of rehabbing the stables and constructing riding corrals, we envision this program to include trail rides and other commercial equine activities that will provide employment and enterprise development opportunities through culturally supportive tourism.

We also identify this as part of the solution to the challenging issue of wild horses and the economic and ecological impact these herds have on tribal lands throughout the Southwest.(3) No ones like to have the well-being of horses in competition with the needs of tribal members. The unfortunate problem arises from the exponential growth of herds where there are no natural predators. We hope to provide a business model capable of maintaining the sacred relationship of Apache people and the Mustang herds.

HSP is organizing work teams starting Spring 2017 to work on the corrals and rehabbing of the stables. We will also have trail development and maintenance opportunities perfect for youth groups. For more information, register here.

(1) 5 Lessons People Can Learn From Horses in Equine Therapy

(2)  Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy

(3) Multi-scale responses of vegetation to removal of horse grazing from the Great Basin (USA) mountain ranges