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Are you seeking a unique way of healing for you or your loved ones? Consider horses. While we know that horses work, transport, race and show, they can also heal.
The recent news about Ann Romney (the wife of presidential candidate Mitt Romney) and her use of horseback riding to recondition and help to heal her Multiple Sclerosis is a testament to the power of horses to heal. The horse has a gait when walking that is similar to a human’s, and this initiates neuromuscular stimulus that helps the patient to regain their muscular control and balance helping their ability to walk.
Locally, Kendra Prescott, of Elverson, has begun her own private practice with a focus on adolescents.
She said, “I spent my childhood on the back of a pony, learning different disciplines, styles of horsemanship and the healing power of horses as I matured. Now I hope to allow others to experience horses while finding joy in the process. As a certified Mental Health and Equine Specialist (with the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association), I offer a unique opportunity to learn and grow with the horse.”
Prescott is a cum laude graduate of Appalachian State University, with a B.S. in Food and Nutrition, and in 2012 she received a M.S. Ed in Mental Health Counseling from the University of Pennsylvania.
She did her undergraduate internship ‘Rural Families Speak!’ at Cornell University studying the effects of welfare reform on Rural Families in 2000. Gathering data from every facet of their lives, she identified a wide incidence of disability and mental illness. Cornell University then hired her to help them complete their three year research study working with 30 families.
Prescott said, “And here I found my heart! I wanted to help these people. I identified a heightened amount of depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, and learning disabilities along with physical disabilities in these families.”
After the research, she moved to Pennsylvania, settling in Elverson. With her dream in tow she reconnected with her childhood love of horses and became an Equine Specialist and went on to obtain her postgraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
A very articulate, well educated person, her greatest strength shines through in her commitment and desire to facilitate healing through horses. It is a team effort requiring a mental health therapist and an equine specialist.
“Horses are by nature gentle creatures. They are prey animals with heightened senses of sensitivity and awareness,” Prescott explained. “They are always ‘in the moment’ and in tune with their surroundings, lest a predator approach. They are herd animals with an alpha as the herd leader. The horse and human bond goes back early in history, the evolution of culture was dependent on their service in agriculture, wars, transportation, sport, and showmanship. Their bond with humans is intuitive.”
Prescott lights up when she talks more of this connection.
“Horse people find the horse becomes a part of them. There is such a strong heart connection; it is hard to live without them, as they fulfill people emotionally. If they can, people will spend seven days a week with their horses.”
She offered a personal experience as a testament to the tie.
“When I was interning in Coatesville we were working with at risk youths. A group of adolescents came to the farm for therapy on a weekly basis. There was one boy who liked a horse and the horse stuck close by his side, they were very connected (even though) this horse was known to prefer solitude away from humans.
“On one occasion a therapist had to go to the boy’s school to get information. The principal witnessed the boy approach the therapist and hug her. The principal amazed by that behavior told the therapist she had never seen that boy have affectionate contact with anyone. The school was a lock-down facility for violent youths. Most people at the farm did not know that; having only ever witnessed his behavior with the horses as gentle and heart connected.”
She spoke of another woman who was so profoundly depressed that when she entered the ring with the horse all she could do was lie down. The horse instinctively went over and lay down beside her. Owners and therapists are constantly surprised at the horses’ behavior.
The premise of the work is that a patient will work with the horse and be assigned tasks to perform (in many cases there is no riding, it is all ground work). A connection is made as the person interacts with the horse. The person will modify their behavior to have success with the horse, so they almost instinctively learn that if they want a bond they have to meet the horse on the horse’s terms.
The interaction brings client issues to the surface. The horse helps the person to connect with deep feelings on a non-verbal level. There are also calming physiological changes as the patient experiences a ‘state of mindfulness,’ fostered by the intense ‘in the moment’ relationship with the horse.
Herbert Benson, MD, the Father of Mind/Body Medicine, identified the Mind/Body connection in his research at Harvard Medical School in the late 1960s. He documented ‘mindfulness’ as being one of the primary ways for people to achieve a lowered brain wave state, lowered blood pressure and heart rate and a feeling of calm and self-control.
As the work progresses, the patient, guided by the mental health professional, is able to verbalize these feelings and gain insight and a path to healing. This is a patient centered therapy and can usually be achieved in a shorter time frame.
To find out more about Equine Therapy, and the role it can play for you or others, contact Kendra Prescott at 301-219-5801. She is currently accepting new patients, individuals or groups, at three locations: her main facility in Pughtown, Locust Lane Riding Center in Coatesville, and Saddlewood Counseling in Birdsboro.