Every Wednesday a light brown haired girl visits her therapist, Sammy. Moriah, a sixteen year old on the autism spectrum, is in the stall with her favorite 1,200 pound appaloosa horse, who once, many years ago, was a wild mustang. His name is Sammy. Moriah is at the barn because of her love for horses. But she is also there to receive treatment.
Two women, Laurie Roberts and Bambi Spahr, are providing an innovative new therapy to clients in the Reno area involving horses. Their program is called, Nevada Equine Assisted Therapy (N.E.A.T). Exposure to horses has been shown to be useful for patients dealing with psychosocial issues and various physical and mental health needs.
After school, on Wednesdays, Moriah can be found doing evening chores at the barn in order to help her achieve her goals of gaining independence and becoming confident in taking greater responsibility in her daily life. She is charged with the tasks of spreading shavings around the stalls, picking up extra hay, cleaning up manure around the barn, following a chart that outlines what the horses will be fed, filling up feed bags, bringing all the horses up to their stalls, and in the winter putting blankets on them. Anyone who has horses knows this is no small task, especially with 9 horses.
“Her goals going forward are to do well enough in high school to be able to get into college and pursue a degree in early childhood education,” Spahr said. “She is certainly on the right path to accomplishing this goal!”
The special connection Sammy and Moriah share started In August 2012 when Jickling began attending N.E.A.T.’s sessions.
“I can always go talk to Sammy,” Moriah said. “Even though he can’t talk to me back, he can always be there for me. He’s a good listener.”
Spahr even reveled a little secret, that Moriah calls Sammy her ‘boyfriend’.
Over 6 years ago Roberts and Spahr started the business with one client and four horses. Now they have nine horses in the herd including two miniature horses and they see 40 clients a week plus an eating disorder program. “It’s grown and it continues to grow,” said Roberts.
N.E.A.T has a variety of clients including those in foster care, adopted out of foster care, struggling with poverty, on the autism spectrum, eating disorders, and other mental health difficulties.
Roberts and Spahr are just part of the team that it takes to provide healing and assistance to so many people. Their other team members have four legs.
“Horses are our partners,” said Roberts. “It takes a very special horse to be a good therapy horse. I need a horse that may be challenging, I need a horse that is going to require more of the rider because I want them to be in charge. I want the client to develop their leadership skills.”
The partnership between horse and human is very apparent, especially when hearing the passion in Moriah’s voice as she talks about Sammy and the bond they share.
“Horses are kind of like me they are all unique in their own special way,” Moriah said.
Engaging with horses and learning the skills to take care of them has helped Moriah develop leadership skills and boost her confidence. She can walk, trot, and canter her horse independently.
“At N.E.A.T if I fail I can just pick myself up and try again,” Moriah said. They have given me this boost of confidence that I can reach my dreams. With a disability you need to have a boost of confidence.”
For anyone who doubts the benefits that horses can provide to the Northern Nevada community, Moriah has a response.
“Some people believe that horse therapy doesn’t really help kids with disabilities, but it actually does,” Moriah said. “It helps us so much with everything, it gives us a boost of confidence, something where we can say, ‘Hey I can do that!’, something that we are good at.”
“We are not a traditional therapeutic riding program, we’re doing equine assisted therapy,” Roberts said. Traditional therapeutic riding focuses mostly on physical and cognitive issues and has been around a long time. Whereas, equine assisted therapy is newer and differs in that it is based around social, emotional, behavioral growth and learning.
According to the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (P.A.T.H), working with horses can have a major physical and emotional impact on people with a wide variety of issues and disabilities. N.E.A.T aims to help those in Northern Nevada develop positive growth through work with these majestic animals. They assist people struggling with; trust, self confidence, anger management, lack of focus, loneliness, self destructive behaviors, and a variety of other emotional difficulties.
It’s hard to believe now, but Moriah used to have a fear of horses from a bad experience prior to entering the program, Roberts said. Now she sees them as peers of sorts.
The gratitude Moriah exhibits is something Spahr and Roberts respect, “I love this kid, she thanks us for the opportunity to be here working with us and participating in that way with our program,” Roberts said.
“NEAT really has done so much for me, so I want to help as much as I can,” Moriah said.
- Photos Provided By: Moriah