Saddle up: Equestrian program at Devereux’s Glenholme School helps students learn essential skills
“When I first got here, I didn’t know how to ride a horse, and when I got on the horse, I was hesitant. Then, through the years, I got better!”
Students who participate in the equestrian program at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Connecticut – The Glenholme School are improving their self-confidence and building essential life skills at a gallop.
The equestrian program is offered to all students, and provides them with an opportunity to learn how to ride and care for horses.
“Our students love participating in the program. Just spending time with our horses, Diesel, Expo, Junior and Ace, is therapeutic for our population,” said Glenholme School Equestrian Program Director Samantha Gaul, MSW. “When it comes to taking care of the horses, our students help out with just about everything – they assist me in grooming the horses, cleaning saddles and stalls, spraying the horses with fly repellent and filling water buckets. In addition, those who are interested can learn how to ride. Or, if they have some riding experience, they can freshen up their skills.”
Glenholme School Executive Director Daniel Bailey, M.A., noted, “The program is extremely popular with our students. Those who take part in it are not only gaining hands-on experience working with horses, but they also are strengthening their social and leadership skills, improving their self-esteem, and learning the importance of teamwork.”
In 2022, Gaul, who has been working with horses for more than 20 years and recently became a certified equine specialist in mental health and learning, launched equine-assisted services at The Glenholme School, building upon the school’s existing equestrian program.
“These services are clinical-based, rather than educational-based,” Gaul explained. “Working with our clinical team, we offer group therapy and various activities, such as herd observations, noticing the interactions between the horses and determining how those interactions relate to peer relations and interactions. Horses are great therapy animals with their ability to understand and mirror human emotions. This, in turn, helps our students better understand their own emotions.”
Developing bonds with horses, peers
Gaul says students who participate in Glenholme’s equestrian program are growing and thriving, and it has been “incredibly rewarding” to witness their progress.
“Every time I walk into the schoolhouse or the dining hall, I hear a student say, ‘Ms. Gaul, can I go riding?’ A lot of kids will stop by while they are on a campus walk and ask me if they can say ‘hi’ to the horses and give them a treat,” Gaul shared. “For some of our students who experience challenges creating connections with their peers, they establish strong bonds with our horses. In one instance, a student wanted nothing to do with the equestrian program due to a negative past experience with horses. I encouraged her to give it a try, and she eventually did. Now, she is a seasoned rider and is fully independent with grooming and placing equipment, like a saddle, on the horses. She goes out of her way to help other students, and has formed lasting friendships. In a short amount of time, our kids develop a love for horses and the equestrian program.”
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