In 2008, at the East Mountain Youth Lodge, Dr. JoAnn Jarolmen, a social worker, conducted a pilot study on equine therapy for troubled youth. She studied 13 teenagers who took part in a program called HorseTime, founded by Kathy Krupa, an Equine Growth and Learning association certified instructor, and found that, after working with the horses, the teenagers were less angry and aggressive, improved their relationships with their parents and peers and had fewer suicidal tendencies.
And perhaps not surprisingly, the public is quite supportive of the idea of using horses to prevent suicide. Veteran Rescue Equine Therapy Ranch recently used Stay Classy, a crowd supported fundraising site to fund their equine therapy program, quickly reaching their target goal of $500,000.
To help generate interest in the program, Veteran Rescue stated their Short term objectives as, “Provide PTSD and Suicide awareness. Give On the Job (OJT) training. Network out Veterans seeking employment. PTSD therapy will be conducted for Veterans using service dogs and horses, while, providing Veterans employment along with apprenticeship programs. We will have Licensed Physical Therapists and Counselors available on site for the Veterans’ use. We will have a work out gym, Jacuzzi, pool, and Obstacle course set up to help them utilize their strengths and work on their weaknesses. We will have a library available for their use along with cabins and other amenities. These medical personnel are for use by all of our participants including, men, women, children, disabled, battered, burned out, and more.”
A 2005 study conducted by a Masters student at Denver seminary for the degree of Counseling Psychotherapy also had similar findings, as at-risk adolescents, age 12-18 who participated in an equine-assisted therapy program demonstrated better psychosocial functioning compared to those who did not. While improved psychosocial functioning will not guarantee reduced suicide risk, it can certainly be considered to be associated with it.
Suicide is a very complex problem, and one that is not completely understood, however, finding effective interventions is an important step in beginning to reduce the risk. With the findings mentioned above, equine-assisted therapy may just be a promising treatment for those exhibiting suicidal tendencies.
Horse and woman photo available from Shutterstock