Uinta’s equine program is the most purposeful and comprehensive equine program in residential treatment. There is a reason that horses are such great partners in helping individuals through personal struggles. Horses are herd animals with social order, much like humans. They seek companionship and must find their place in the herd’s social structure. When a teen spends time with a horse, they must assess and figure out her relationship with their horse while the horse figures out the relationship as well. How a teen manages this process often mirrors their relationships with other people.
“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man (or person).” Winston Churchill.
Each individual at Uinta Academy gets their own horse. By assuming ownership of a horse, they also assume the responsibility for providing for its well-being. Every day they must feed, water, and groom their horse. However, caring for the horse isn't the only component in developing a relationship with it. By working with their horse, they put in the time and effort necessary to make sure the horse feels safe and trusting. As prey animals, horses view all situations with suspicion and fear. They communicate primarily through body language, while humans communicate primarily through speech.
Therefore, each teen learns a lot about relationships; communication, reciprocity, tolerance, and showing concern. Many find it easier to practice these skills with their horses rather than to practice with a person. All of these exercises teach them that trust, effort and communication are essential qualities of any healthy relationship.
The teens do not ride their horses because these relationships need to be purely altruistic. This teaches them that they can develop relationships without the expectation of getting something in return.
For teens with no prior experience, the size and quickness of a horse can be intimidating. If a teen is initially uneasy about approaching their horse, the staff works patiently with them until they feel more comfortable. As the teen confronts their fears and learns to approach and handle the horse, their confidence grows and they feel empowered to confront other challenges.
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy
Every individual participates in a weekly Equine Assisted Psychotherapy group. Uinta’s equine therapists are all trained by Greg Kersten, the founder of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and founder of EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association). Equine tasks done in these sessions are typically activities designed to develop communication, boundaries, emotional regulation, problem solving, teamwork, assertiveness, resourcefulness, and self-esteem.
The teen's interactions with the horses in these sessions provide valuable information to the therapists that can be processed with the client. The teen can draw on their experience and compare it to other situations and relationships. When a client can compare a horse’s action to that of someone in their life, they can assess it without an emotional response from that person and with less emotional stigma of their own.
During the summer months, the teens participate in natural horsemanship activities, which incorporate techniques pioneered by Pat and Linda Parelli. The core principles of Parelli are “Love, Leadership, Language.” These concepts complement the relationship skills that are the foundation for Uinta’s therapeutic approach. Teens learn seven “games” that they can play with their horses to establish trust, leadership, and communication. The games are a fun way for the teen to practice these skills and build self-confidence.
During the spring and summer months, weekly horseback riding is offered to all the students. This includes riding in an arena, as well as trail riding in beautiful wilderness areas. Because the students do not ride their own horses, Uinta maintains a string of riding horses. These horses are well trained and gentle, consequently, they are safe for all the students to ride. Many come to Uinta with extensive riding experience, even having ridden competitively. These students are encouraged to use their expertise to help novice riders. The students that have not ridden before get one on one help from a professional riding instructor. In addition to riding, the students learn about tacking up the horses before the ride, and unsaddling and caring for the horses after the ride.
"Girls who come to Uinta are pleasantly surprised that they live in a home in a residential neighborhood, that the mountains are right outside their door, and that they get to do all the normal things that teenagers like to do."