Equine Partners Help Trauma Survivors Heal

Winston Churchill once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” Asbury University student Charlotte Easley put this saying to the test — with women — by helping to create a powerful partnership between two Lexington, Ky.-area organizations.

The idea came after Easley, a student in Asbury’s Master of Social Work program, finished an internship last year at Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center and began working with Central Kentucky Riding for Hope this past fall. Based out of the Kentucky Horse Park just outside of Lexington, CKRH is focused on improving the quality of life for both children and adults with special needs through therapeutic activities with horses.

MSW student Charlotte Easley helped bring together two Lexington, Ky.-area nonprofits to benefit survivors of sexual trauma.
MSW student Charlotte Easley helped bring together two Lexington, Ky.-area nonprofits to benefit survivors of sexual trauma.

Easley felt that adding an equine component to the crisis center’s existing curriculum would deepen the level of healing available to the center’s clients, as well as expanding the CKRH’s mental health services.

“People have been doing this for years,” Easley said. “Everyone understands the power of the horse-human bond. But in recent years, the mental health component has become much more professional by establishing ethical standards and promoting the inclusion of appropriately licensed and trained facilitators."

A team of credentialed therapists joined Easley in refining the curriculum and established a pilot group of five women named EAST (Equine Assisted Survivors of Trauma) to launch the partnership. Once a week for six weeks, the women met as a group at BRCC and then came to CKRH, where they participated in a variety of non-mounted activities designed to assist them in working through common symptoms of trauma such as trust issues, relationship challenges, hyper-vigilance and post-traumatic stress. Based on pre- and post-surveys of the program, it worked: participants improved their coping and relational skills and reduced their traumatic symptoms by 33 percent.

While animals in general often are helpful in therapy, horses are particularly effective, Easley said.

“They’re a huge presence, so right from the beginning, the women have to learn to set safe boundaries,” Easley said. “It teaches them self-awareness. The women were so brave and courageous — I’ve learned so much from working with them.”

Easley will graduate in May with her MSW degree, as well as certification in equine-assisted learning.

“The MSW program worked with me to include these experiences in my curriculum,” Easley said. “There were a lot of new things for me to learn, and the professors were so supportive.”

For more information on Asbury’s Master of Social Work program, please visit: http://www.asbury.edu/academics/departments/msw

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