By Linda Kor
Being a teenager has always had its challenges. Even the most well adjusted teens may find themselves dealing with depression, inner conflict, the need for acceptance and the pain of rejection. At the Holbrook Seventh-day Adventist Indian School (HIS), Fred Bruce has been helping teens for more than two years to strengthen their self-esteem and build relationships in a positive manner by caring for horses as part of their school instruction.
Understanding the value of working with animals is nothing new to Bruce, who came to HIS in 2010 to teach welding and constructions trades with the condition that he be able to provide a horsemanship program for the school. A skilled horseman, Bruce is a national clinic instructor, and has been a member of the Certified Horsemanship Association for 30 years, taught clinics for the association and received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his service.
According to Bruce, equine therapy has become recognized as a way to promote emotional wellness for individuals dealing with physical and emotional challenges. It’s been shown that working with horses helps individuals communicate better, build confidence and develop trust.
“The thing about horses is that they listen and don’t talk back. This helps a lot for kids who have a hard time relating to people. Here you have a large animal obeying what you tell it to do. These horses are kind and gentle, and provide these kids with something they can love and relate to,” explained Bruce.
He noted that equine therapy teaches kids the value of responsibility, provides confidence in interaction and stresses the value of body language. Using what Bruce calls their “natural aids,” such as the sound of their voice, and how they stand, use their hands and weight when riding, students learn to communicate not only with the horse, but develop skills to communicate with peers and other people in their environment.
In Bruce’s program, the students are taught the basics of caring for a horse such as grooming, how to tack a horse, communicating with the horse and learning how to move with the horse. By learning these skills the students also learn confidence, compassion and self-worth.
According to Bruce, it’s not uncommon for people to be intimidated by horses. They are faster, bigger and stronger than people, making it seem that they would have no need to obey commands.
“We had one student who was scared to death of horses. My wife had to go with her every day to tend to the horse and hold her hand while she took care of it. If that animal swished its tail she would scream. After a few months she was out there by herself, moving in confidence. It was a great success,” stated Bruce.
The program at HIS began with six horses, two that were donated and four others purchased at auction. Unfortunately, one of those horses became lame, leaving the school in search of someone who would donate an-other one so that the program can continue to serve all the students who want to participate.
Bruce believes that working with animals helps to bring out what’s best in people. “Its about developing relationships. You learn how to treat the horse properly, then that transfers to how they relate to people,” he explained.
By Linda Kor