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Giant Steps Serves as Host Site for Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning Workshop

Giant Steps partnered with PATH Intl (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) to offer an Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning workshop and equine skills test at the Giant Steps Mabie Barn from October 5-8. The workshop and equine skills test were facilitated by two PATH Intl faculty: Mental Health Professional Martha Dubenksy, and Equine Specialist, Sandy Webster. Together they trained three Giant Steps staff members as well as 18 staff members from other centers.

Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning workshops are intended for professionals in the Equine Assisted Services industry as well as mental health professionals, educators, life coaches, and recreational therapists who are interested in Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) and/or Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) programs. The goal is to teach equine specialists to work in conjunction with mental health professionals to design curriculum and safely execute EFP and EAL programming. These sessions help clients gain skills for coping with emotions and high stress situations, improve communication and people skills, and develop self-awareness and empathy.

“The workshop ensures that equine specialists working in the Equine Assisted Learning and Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy industry look out for the well-being of the equines, work cohesively with the mental health professional, and do not overstep their role,” Julie Larson, Program Director at Giant Steps shares. “And Giant Steps benefitted by having our own staff at the workshop because it will increase our potential to expand our groundwork programming.”

In this model there is a true partnership between the mental health professional and the equine specialist. As the mental health professional has deep understanding of the clients’ needs, they set the overarching goals for the program and support the clients during the session as they process their emotions. The equine specialist serves as the equine expert during equine/human interactions, designs specific activities to address the goals set by the mental health professional, and looks out for the welfare of the horse during the sessions. Equine specialists have a thorough understanding of the ways equine behavior can affect human responses, and continuously assess the role of the equine during the sessions.

“People came to the workshop from Washington, Nevada, and all over California,” Julie adds. “Everyone was eager and enthusiastic. It was a great opportunity to host fellow PATH centers and network and learn together.”

Giant Steps’ core programming remains focused on providing adaptive riding to children and adults living with disabilities, but we have been slowly expanding to include programming for individuals living with emotional and mental health challenges. “I am pleased that three of our staff members were able to attend the workshop and pass the equine skills test, and that we were able to give back to our industry by training staff from other centers,” Beth Porter, Giant Steps Executive Director reports. “We look forward to expanding our groundwork programming in the coming year.”