‘Neighbor help’: program offers help with the use of horses | news
As a child, Cadiz-based Susan Garon struggled with problems related to depression and social anxiety throughout her childhood.
But Garon was fortunate to have a horse, and she worked her way through her problems.
Today, the licensed marriage and family therapist relies on her horse friends when working with her young and old clients.
Garon, 63, owns Equine Assisted Transitions, which she founded as a nonprofit in Lawrenceburg in 2009. Six years ago she bought a piece of land in Cadiz where she now runs her equine therapy program.
The sessions give clients the opportunity to work with the horses, build relationships with them, care for the animals and ride them.
“Horses reflect our own relationships,” says Garon, who is also a certified therapeutic riding instructor. “They live in a herd, which is similar to family dynamics.”
Garon said that people who are associated with horses understand that the animals are therapeutic.
In Cadiz Garon has a “very nice barn” and a covered riding arena, in which sessions with the horses can take place in winter and summer.
An obstacle course is used for training horses and working with people, with an emphasis on making them bond with horses, working on trust and understanding, and teaching clients to communicate with others.
As a therapist, Garon usually focuses on relationships. In the past she has worked with foster families or those who have had significant behavioral problems and who have been sent to a residential program because of their difficulties.
They might have had drugs in their families, Garon said, and they had a lot of anger, depression and fear, emotions so extreme that they weren’t allowed in other summer camps.
Garon wanted to form smaller groups where they could get help dealing with their frustration and anger, and learn to deal with things they encountered at home or at school. She wanted other young people to experience what she had experienced with her horse as a child.
At their Cadiz facility, Garon currently has 25 clients, ages 3 to 70 years old. Some only come to ride, although they are all known as riders.
Therapy is stigmatized, Garon said, and by identifying everyone as a rider, no one knows whether a particular person is getting riding lessons or therapy.
One of these drivers is Emily Curcio.
The 28-year-old suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident eight years ago, and moving to Equine Assisted Transitions has helped hone her physical, mental and social skills, she said.
“Everyone has really helped me a lot,” says Curcio, who lives in Herndon, of the instructors she worked with during the program.
Emily’s mother, Yvette Holmes, had heard of Garon’s program in Cadiz. Her daughter had ridden a horse since she was 10 years old, but after the wreck it was no longer safe for her.
“This is safe with trained people and horses,” said Holmes, noting that the program’s instructors worked a lot with Emily on her flexibility, strength, and coordination.
Five years ago it took several people to get their daughter in the saddle for the first time at Equine Assisted Transitions. The young woman couldn’t do it herself, said her mother.
Holmes said the program is good for Emily’s prospects too, and her doctors in Louisville are excited about the therapy.
Curcio still cannot ride her own horse today; But she cares, and she has a safe environment at Equine Assisted Transitions where she rides and works with these horses.
One recent afternoon she groomed Tank, a quarter horse, before showing him around the arena with the help of horse handler and volunteer Diane LeClair.
Riding Garon’s horses helped improve her balance, Curcio said. It has also helped her physical abilities, strengthened her mental abilities, and given her the opportunity to spend time with other people.
After the accident, “all of my friends disappeared from my life,” said Curcio. Their only social interaction was with family, so being able to spend time with other people in the arena was beneficial for them.
Curcio described the program as “very, very helpful,” and Lantana Hight, a summer intern at Equine Assisted Transitions, agreed.
Hight, a college student majoring in horse management and psychology, found the program was as helpful to her as it was to the young clients she sees.
“Just to see what’s going on here is absolutely amazing because you can see how every child is progressing,” said Hight, who has been working since she was 15.
As for Garon, she said the volunteer-led program is something she feels strong about.
“It’s a passion,” she said. “It’s something I do with passion.”
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, overlapping sessions that allowed students to connect with one another gave way to therapy sessions at a distance.
Work was done outside for social distancing.
Wearing masks and washing hands was a top priority for the students, and one of the facility’s toilets was sprayed regularly.
Looking at the challenges the pandemic posed to her program, Garon notes that during this time she basically had to shut everything down and find a new way to do things.
“We did everything we could to make everyone feel safe and started rebuilding from there,” she said.
Garon anticipates their numbers will rise again as things open up again when people get their vaccinations and there are fewer cases of the coronavirus.
She is looking for new volunteers and says they may have experience with horses or children.
Garon also said that her volunteers do not necessarily need experience with horses, as a lot of effort is involved in working with the students, teaching them to brush the horses, coaching and encouraging them to work with the animals.
She added that, for example, there is a need for funds and sponsors, companies or church groups to sponsor the therapy program.
Garon said there will be smaller groups of around four or five people, as well as one-on-one sessions with their clients, this summer.
She noted that there are other therapy equestrian centers, including one in Paducah that focuses on special needs and another center near Nashville called Saddle Up.
The need was great, she said.
Her clients at Equine Assisted Transitions are not only from Cadiz and Cerulean in Trigg Counties, but also from surrounding communities such as Clarksville, Tennessee, Hopkinsville, Pembroke, Gracey, Elkton, Benton, Murray and others.
Garon said she would like her work to continue in the future and she hopes to find someone interested in learning more about the program and moving forward. She said she would like this volunteer to bond with the horses and become sponsors for both the horses and the program participants.
“There is plenty of room for growth and opportunity that I hope we can make a significant difference in our community,” Garon said.
For more information, please find their program on Facebook by searching for “EA Transitions”.