Updated: Dec 28, 2021
Summertime in Montana opens up many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. This summer, the kids we serve are getting out and enjoying activities like bike riding, swimming, fishing, hiking, playing in the park, and gardening.
Special horseback riding lessons are also part of the summer schedule – an exciting therapy the kids did not realize they were going to receive.
AWARE Therapist Lisa Pesanti is instrumental in scheduling riding lessons for the kids. As an equine therapist for the last eight years (she has been a therapist for 15 years), she can attest to the positive outcomes.
Lisa says she’s seen and experienced firsthand how working with horses can make a vital difference. Since she was a kid, she’s been involved in breeding and raising horses, participating in rodeo competitions, horse showing, and 4-H.
“Horses were a very important part of my life growing up,” she said. “They brought me peace as a kid and were my comfort and pride during childhood.”
By sharing her life-long love of horses, she hopes to offer the children AWARE serves a similar experience.
Equine therapy provides more than riding lessons
So far, one group of kids has attended two horse lessons. About 11 to 12 boys and girls participated.
Lisa and AWARE staff brought the kids to the Breakaway Youth Ranch near Cardwell, Montana. It offers kids with specific or special needs an opportunity to learn about horses and themselves in the process.
“Every kid had a phenomenal time and were fully engrossed in what they were doing,” Lisa said.
As the AWARE youth arrive at the ranch, they are separated into two groups. They switch roles later on during the day.
Group one started their day with community service helping ranch staff with chores. The nonprofit ranch is able to welcome the children at no cost through donations they receive. Providing services like yard work or cleaning corrals and stalls allows the kids to give back.
The other half started with a lesson. Each child works one-on-one with a trained mentor who teaches them how to safely groom, saddle and ride a horse. Sessions lasts about 90 minutes.
Equine therapy begins right away as the kids head out to the corral with their assigned mentor to choose the horse they get to work with that day.
“Sometimes the horse picks the kid,” Lisa said. “Horses are incredible at reading people.”
She’s found that each child for the most part works with a horse that provides the exact lesson needed for the day.
For example, one girl who displayed controlling behaviors picked a willing and kind horse who suddenly stopped in place and refused to move. The horse accurately reflected her attitude. Lisa helped the girl recognize and reflect on her own feelings and behaviors. After a good deal of work, the girl softened and ultimately had a positive experience working the horse.
Another boy who was more experienced found riding difficult because he struggled to adjust the reins. He was trying too hard to control all of the outcomes. So, he was asked to ride without the reins in a smaller round corral where he trotted in large circles. The boy found that by trusting in the process and focusing on himself, the ride transitioned to a smooth experience.
That day, both the boy and the girl worked with the horse, Lola.
Lisa has brought several children with special needs to this ranch throughout the years. She is always amazed by the effectiveness of treatment.
“I can’t say enough about this type of therapy,” Lisa said. “Sometimes it takes four to six sessions of conventional therapy to achieve the insights accomplished in 90 minutes with a horse. Equine therapy has a powerful impact on humans because it is experiential rather than just talk.”
AWARE plans to bring a different group of kids to experience a couple of equine therapy sessions at the Breakaway Youth Ranch in August before heading back to school.
The Breakaway Youth Ranch was developed completely on faith and donations to exclusively serve underprivileged children in Montana. To learn more about the horse ranch go to www.breakawayyouthranch.org
Join our team
To learn about the career options AWARE has available to work with kids, go to www.Aware-inc.org/careers