Last school year, Jacob Souders was a 12-year-old sixth-grader whose mother didn’t know how to keep him under control.
He was always getting in trouble, acting out and trying to beat people up. He was diagnosed with a mental health disorder and needed behavioral help.
Jacob entered the residential program offered by Cincinnati Children’s Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, where a recreational therapy program has helped him turn around.
Actually, a horse named Sky deserves part of the credit.
Brushing Sky, cleaning her hooves and learning to walk and ride her taught Jacob a little about horses and a lot about himself.
He says the time he spent with Sky helped him figure out that he had been acting out because his dad abandoned the family when he was just a baby. He says his therapists – and the horse – taught him how to manage his emotions.
“When I get to brush her, it helps me calm down,” he says. “I’m a lot more patient. I’m a lot less angry.”
Cincinnati Children’s offers the equine program to help improve self-esteem for kids ages 8 to 18 who have a mental health diagnosis and are in residential treatment at the College Hill campus. A handful of kids travel to a local farm twice a week for six weeks to bond with the horses.
“Our goal is never about riding,” says Kristi Burger, Jacob’s recreation therapist. “It’s about the relationship and learning about themselves and the struggles that they’re having and the reasons that they’re in treatment in the first place.”
Especially for kids who don’t have a healthy relationship with anyone in their lives, bonding comes naturally with a horse, she says.
“Horses are good mirrors for behaviors or emotions,” Burger says. “And kids can’t really fake what they’re feeling around a horse. It’s a good opportunity for them to be real with themselves.”
Nearly 20 percent of children in the United States are believed to have a diagnosable mental illness in any given year. As the only residential treatment facility in Ohio for children and teens, Cincinnati Children’s is here to help those kids learn how to live healthy and productive lives. For more information, call 513-636-4124 or email psychiatryresponse.cchmc.org.
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