Horse therapy: good for self-esteem and for the equine

Jenna Staul

Carly Hostler, 9, gets close to Banjo, a rescue horse at Ride-It-Out Saturday afternoon. Caitlin Prarat | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

Michelle Culley is not your traditional therapist.

Culley is the owner of Ride-It-Out, an organization specializing in equine therapy. She said she hopes that the organization heals people’s emotional wounds through their building of relationships with horses.

“I don’t know if its common,” Culley said of equine therapy. “But I know it works. It’s a holistic approach.”

Culley, a former Canton school teacher, received certification to conduct equine therapy from the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, and began Ride-It-Out, located at Promise Land Farm in Ravenna, after she noticed young girls benefiting from interaction with horses.

“I was noticing how so many little girls would just shine from the inside after being around horses,” Culley said. “And the horses benefit from being around people too.”

Since Culley formed Ride-It-Out in January it has attracted its fair share of attention from local juvenile courts, Children’s Advantage and the Mental Health Board of Portage County. Culley said while using horses as a therapy tool can help relieve a host of personal demons including anger issues, problems with self-esteem and grief, Ride-It-Out can also be used as a means to building communication skills in the work place for adults.

“Self-esteem is such a generic word,” Culley said. “But more than that its about having a greater understanding of one’s self, and you can help people work through their discrepancies.”

Culley once worked with a group of children grieving the loss of loved ones by having them paint memories on the side of a horse with tempera paint, which does not bother a horse.

“One kid drew ice cream cones (on the horse) – it was what he remembered of his grandfather,” Culley said. “Then we all washed the horse and watched the paint go down the drain. It was very powerful.”

A hallmark of Ride-It-Out’s therapy process is the removal of harnesses on the horse.

“It makes you both equals,” Culley said of removing the harness. “I think we’ve all seen horses wearing harnesses. When the kids see (the harness), they go straight for it.”

Three horses are used in the program, all chosen by Culley for their easy-going and inquisitive nature. The horses are all rescued and adopted by Culley after they were no longer needed by their former owners. Culley boards them at Promise Land Farm.

“Banjo would have been used for human consumption in China,” Culley said of one of the horses she frequently uses in the program. “I actually purchased him for just $1. He used to work on a dude ranch doing trail rides from sun up to sun down all day, so he has bad knees.”

Rootstown resident Bambi Brown enrolled her daughter, Michelle, 11, in Ride-It-Out’s program and said her daughter has flourished in only five lessons.

“When she began the lessons, she was shy and timid around the horses, and now she’s totally relaxed,” Brown said. “She has grown. She isn’t that intimidated little girl she was.”

Contact news correspondent Jenna Staul at [email protected].