Horse Empower brings families closer, fosters communication 

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Warren Whyte makes a personal connection with “Bernard,” one of the horses at Horse Empower outside of Durango, Colo., Wednesday, Sept. 8. “If they do find success in connecting, that’s the beauty, that’s the thing that they get to carry on, outside of the arena,” emphasized Horse Empower founder and equine specialist, Kim Hardesty.
Sunshine Whyte greets a horse named “Gus” during Horse Empower. Family wellbeing is a focus of Equine Assisted Learning (EAL). Parents, children — all learn about their individual leadership styles while actively engaging with the horses.
Sonny Flores mounts a horse named “Canyon” during the second half on a family orientated Horse Empower — Equine Assisted Learning session. Flores used communication skills and trust building techniques to bond with his horse and accomplish some riding and horsemanship activities.
Warren Whyte overcomes any fears or inhibitions he might have had around horses, as he strengthens his bond with a horse during his second Horse Empower workshop.
Terrence Whyte rewards his horse with a treat following their riding session at Horse Empower. Terrance and Sunshine Whyte were on their second session of Equine Assisted Learning (EAL), where the bonding with horses was emphasized as part of the overall experience.
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
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The Southern Ute Behavioral Health Division utilized grant funding earmarked for mental health programming to provide Horse Empower sessions to Southern Ute tribal members during the month of September. This ties into the overarching Native Connection Programs’ goal of prevention of substance use and suicide.  

“This is an amazing project that our program was able to bring to the Native youth and their families,” emphasized Native Connection Program Coordinator, Precious Collins. 

“This is a free service paid for under our Native Connections Program grant. I want to let the community know, especially existing and future Behavioral Health clients, about different therapy settings we can offer them.”  

Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) is an experiential approach to teaching life skills such as leadership, communication and team building utilizing a partnership with horses. 

Horse Empower LLC provides that unique experience right here in La Plata County, collaborating with local organization such as the Southern Ute Behavioral Health Division and the Boys and Girls Club of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.  

“Our programs are goal-oriented learning programs where participants work on the ground with horses through carefully designed objective-based obstacles and problem-solving exercises,” Horse Empower founder and equine specialist, Kim Hardesty explained. 

“Equine Assisted learning is the type of program [we offered], which is essentially experienced learning, partnering with horses,” Hardesty said. “It gives the family time to be present, put away cell phones, and be with family; learn about themselves and each other on a deeper more connected level.” 

“We didn’t mix families; it was one family unit at a time. The group dynamic is super powerful,” she said. “The best part is that all the while they are having fun, we get to see all the laughter and smiles along the journey. Almost every single family came back two and three times for more sessions.” 

“The horses’ sensitive nature, awareness of their surroundings and herd instincts make them exceptional teachers. Their distinct attitudes, personalities and moods create a mutually beneficial and powerful learning environment. Working together with groups and teams, horses look for a leader, the same kind of compassionate, clear and confident leader that people seek and through our many experiential programs they help gently guide participants, letting them know when they get it right and when they have opportunities to grow.”  

“Everybody is different — even the horses,” emphasized Hardesty. “That’s the same with the people. They are learning to recognize what they are drawn to. How to communicate better — and that’s super important. Participants are encouraged to brush the horses, it’s really therapeutic in nature; it’s the moment where you begin to develop a relationship. We find that people love the repetition of the brush stokes, it also builds trust and awareness — they become more in tune with the horses, the horses will react. That’s a beautiful, powerful thing.  

“Our specific goal is to help youth improve feelings of self-worth” said Native Connections Behavioral Health Therapist, Stephanie Garcia. “Horse Empower has different options for different family’s needs. For instance, some may be looking for a more “therapeutic” in the mental health sense kind of support, while others may just be looking for an opportunity for family bonding that is less formal. They offer both options. As well as one-on-one work vs. group work.” 

While the Horse Empower was scheduled until the end of September for the general Native American community, the Southern Ute Native Connections program and Southern Ute Behavioral Health Dept. will still be working with Horse Empower for therapeutic needs that their clients have.  

“The Horse Empower program is so valuable and truly a positive experience,” emphasized Sunshine Whyte, “It was a great opportunity as a family to challenge ourselves and to bond more, not only with each other, but with the horses. Life is fast paced, but this gave us a chance to slow down, try something new and appreciate our time together. The more time spent with the horses builds a mutual trust and respect, but really you start to see the impacts of verbal and non-verbal communication that helps you take a deeper look at your own style and application to everyday interactions.” 

Whyte participated in multiple session this summer, taking advantage of the opportunity provided by the Tribe’s Native Connection program. She was joined by her husband Terrance Whyte, and their two sons, on each of these family orientated Horse Empower sessions.  

“Sonny (Flores) is 13 and Warren (Whyte) is 7, the individual work they did with the horses helped them to build their confidence and feel accomplished in their efforts,” Whyte explained. “The work they did together, as a team with the horses, improved their communication to each other, their problem-solving skills and even increased their patience with each other.  Warren enjoyed it so much he is wanting his own horse, and Sonny is seeking to continue developing his horsemanship skills.” 

The Southern Ute Behavioral Health Division will be offering a six-week therapeutic program for middle school aged Native American youth enrolled at the Southern Ute Health Clinic starting Tuesday, Oct. 12. This will be a great way for Native youth to learn more about themselves, learn to communicate their feelings, while also learning to lead and share control.  

“I feel like even though I am a therapist, I think there are lots of different ways to heal and improve yourself or reach your goals; I think this is a great opportunity to do that.” Garcia emphasized. “Everyone is different, and everyone should have the opportunity to have therapy in an alternative way that maybe works better for them”  

Please contact Stephanie Garcia  sgarcia@southernute-nsn.gov or Jennifer Goodtracks  jgoodtra@southernute-nsn.gov or call the Southern Ute Behavioral Health Division at 970.563.5700 for more information.  

To learn more about equine learning and equine therapy, visit, Horse Empower LLC at horseempower.com, or contact Kim Hardesty at (970) 749.397.  

 

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