Santa Rosa Group Ponies Up To Treat Mental Illness

Carrie Hodousek
February 27, 2020 - 6:18 pm
The Pony Express organization in Santa Rosa helps young people deal with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

The Pony Express Equine Assisted Skills for Youth

People suffering from anxiety or depression may find better results by riding on a horse rather than reclining on a therapist's couch. 

That's the philosophy at a center in Santa Rosa which reins in mental illness among young people by saddling them on horses. 

"That animal provides them with a space to feel safe and open up," said Linda Aldrich, director of the Pony Express Equine Assisted Skills for Youth.

The participants in the program come from difficult conditions at home and school.

"They are either adopted or come out of foster care, so they are struggling with things like abandonment and attachment issues, which horses speak so directly to," Aldrich said.

She said horses can teach the importance of trust. They can address fears, build confidence and strengthen relationships. Because horses are so sensitive to human moods, they give people the motivation to calm themselves.

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"Horses, as prey animals, have the ability to read energy and emotion," she said. "There's a lot of breathing techniques that we do that horses really help us with."

Equine therapy allows people to physically interact with the horses, which is a much different approach than talking with a therapist. 

"Ten percent of all of our language is words and that other 90 percent is all body language," said Aldrich. "Noticing what your horse is doing, what their ears and eyes are doing, there's all kinds of dialogue going on in between horse and human, but it's all non-verbal."

The Pony Express has been helping youths ride off to greener pastures since 1982. 

"I've seen patients really closed off and disconnected," Aldrich said. "When they leave in the course of an hour, they're engaged, they're smiling and laughing."

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