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Medicine Horse Center goes virtual with therapeutic lessons

Mancos equine therapy site creates video series to bring programming to youths

The Medicine Horse Center in Mancos has been using horses as therapy and to support the social and emotional well-being of youths for decades. But now with social distancing measures, it can’t bring children and other visitors to the center.

So instead, the Medicine Horse Center has gone virtual.

The center’s new video series “R U AWARE?” continues many of their lessons. Although students can’t touch or smell the horses featured in the classes, the horses are still therapeutic, said Karen Finch, a licensed professional counselor with Medicine Horse.

“What’s a more engaging way to bring up social-emotional issues than with something so nonthreatening as a horse?” Finch said.

In Episode No. 2 of “R U Aware?”, Medicine Horse Center therapist Karen Finch makes a guest appearance to help a few Clydesdales teach “Lessons from a Horse.”

The Medicine Horse Center was founded in 2000 as a traditional therapeutic riding center. (This is the organization’s 20th anniversary, but a celebration has been paused because of the coronavirus pandemic, said Lynne Howarth, the center’s executive director.)

About five years into their operations, though, Medicine Horse began incorporating social-emotional program.

Horses are assist with therapeutic and social-emotional support, because unlike humans, they read people “from the inside out,” Howarth said.

“They’re very adept at reading their environment, because they’re prey animals,” Howarth said. “And so they always have to be on the lookout to scan their environment at all times, and to be able to read the energy of what’s going on around them. So it makes them really strong partners in therapeutic or wellness work with people.”

Horses are also nonjudgmental and honest, and they live in the moment, she said.

“Horses teach us that being present and being honest allows for greater communication and a stronger relationship,” Howarth said. “And that’s part of what we teach here at Medicine Horse.” They serve all ages, but their programs center primarily around youth and youth wellness, she said.

“Aware” – Actions, Words, Accountability, Respect, and Empathy – is one of the main programs at the Medicine Horse Center. With partial funding provided by a grant from the Rocky Mountain Health Foundation, Medicine Horse has now taken Aware online with the creation of “R U Aware?”

The video series features themes related to social-emotional well-being, from mindfulness and breathing exercises to ideas for connecting with others from a safe distance – 6 feet, or about a pony’s length, according to the series. In the second episode, viewers visit Rocky Draw Farm in Lewis and learn “lessons from a horse” as Tyler Willbanks tacks up his team of Clydesdales and discs his field.

Some of the videos will be interactive. For example, Medicine Horse just posted a video featuring a horse drumming circle, in which kids are invited to drum along.

“The horses are so fun to watch, it grabs their attention, it’s interactive,” Finch said. “And we’ve ended every single video with a prompt, a question, that either educators or caretakers can work with the kids to bring out that discussion a little more.”

The creators also use the opportunity to remind young people of safe practices. In Episode No. 3, Bronco, a cross between a miniature horse and Shetland pony, demonstrates proper 20-second hand-washing techniques and reminds viewers to cough into their elbows, not touch their faces and stay home – with a little help from staff member Zoe Coleman.

In Episode No. 3 of “R U Aware?”, facilitator Zoe Coleman and Bronco demonstrate safe hand-washing techniques.

The videos are posted daily on the Medicine Horse Center YouTube channel, starting on April 6 and lasting for five weeks. More than anything, Medicine Horse hopes the video series will spur conversations between young people and their parents.

“It’s a way for parents and kids to connect with a really fun, interactive video every day,” Finch said. “Let’s talk about your responsibility, let’s talk about how you are. It’s an excellent avenue for parents.”

This article was updated April 13 to correct the name of the staff member featured in Episode No. 3.