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Horse therapy offers insight into mental health

  • Barbara Thorngren of Temple demonstrates of EAGALA techniques while working with William, one of the horses that will work with clients at Transitions in Stride in New Ipswich. Below: Susanne Riemer shares a moment with William. Staff photos by Ashley Saari

  • Barbara Thorngren of Temple demonstrates of EAGALA techniques while working with William, one of the horses that will work with clients at Transitions in Stride in New Ipswich. Below: Susanne Riemer shares a moment with William. Staff photos by Ashley Saari



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
*Archive Article*
There’s more than one way to corral a horse. But what does the method we use tell us about ourselves?

Susanne Riemer of New Ipswich is a clinical social worker. Most of her career has been spent in an office, seeing one client after another.

“I noticed, talking about things isn’t always as effective as involving the body,” said Riemer, in an interview at her farm on Saturday. “Things like play therapy with children.”

For Riemer, her own mental health came from interacting with her personal passion: Horses. Always a horse lover, but only a horse owner since her 40s, riding and being around the animals was a way to center herself.

So, when Riemer stumbled across an article about the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, a psychotherapy model that uses horses to address mental health and professional development, she knew she had found something she wanted to further explore.

“You can really get to the source of a problem much quicker if both the mind and body are involved,” explained Riemer. “It just clicked how you could use horses for psychotherapy.”

Now, with her own farm and three horses, Riemer has recently started Transitions in Stride, a EAGALA-based therapy and professional development organization. Riemer, along with Equine Specialists Barbara Thorngren of Temple and George Stolz lead sessions for therapy or team building for organizations or families with Riemer’s three horses, Ace, Iceman and William.

The kind of work Transitions in Stride does is all ground-based -- the participants are not riding the horses. Instead, they work with them to accomplish a series of goals, sometimes using teamwork with other people.

For example, obstacles might be placed around the ring, and the patients told to maneuver the horses around or into them.

Then, how they approach the problem, interact with the horse, and interact with each other can be examined.

“This is therapy in its purest form, with people identifying their issues and having the space to work through them,” said Riemer.

Horses are prey animals, explained Riemer. That means they will avoid a situation or person that’s being aggressive or confrontational.

“Horses are so smart in how they read energy,” agreed Thorngren. “If someone comes on very aggressive, they might stay at the other end of the paddock. If someone is more relaxed and quietly confident, they react to that.”

Horses also make perfect reflectors for people, explained Riemer. The way people interpret different reactions from the horse often mirrors what’s going on in their own life, and can be a starting point for a conversation.

It’s also a way to step away from the hectic everyday life and reconnect, said Thorngren.

“Horses offer this gift: The opportunity to pause,” she said.

Transitions in Stride will be holding a demo day on Oct. 11, at Riemer’s farm on 117 Poor Farm Road in New Ipswich. Demonstrations will be held at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. The public is welcome. For more information, find Transitions in Stride on Facebook.



Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.