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Animal Therapy for First Responders- Let’s Talk about Horses

Recently I had the opportunity to visit a local organization, FLAR Equine Experience, and learn more about equine therapy and the programs they offer.

I had been reading quite a bit around animal therapy and was intrigued by the idea of equine therapy. I was familiar with the positive health outcomes for first responders with therapy or emotional support dogs, so wondered what horses offered.

Well…it was not what I was expecting and it was incredible. Horses are magical, intuitive animals and they are there to challenge and support you. This program was not about just emotional support, it was about building skills in resilience, patience, and so much more. What the horse accomplishes looks very different for each person and what you might be going through.

The owner/operator of FLAR Equine Experience, Rachel, has 12 years of experience as a volunteer firefighter in Halifax Regional Municipality. Rachel’s passion for horses and the wellbeing of first responders (especially those who volunteer) was evident from the moment we met. I had the pleasure of getting to learn all about equine therapy, their programs, and got to do a bit myself with the horse, Mr. Ed. During the small bit of the skill-building program we did, Mr. Ed challenged me. It was like he knew I had a 5-month-old at home and was stressed, running on a lack of sleep, and had little to no patience. I couldn’t believe in the short amount of time with Mr. Ed and Rachel facilitating the experience, how much I learned. I had time to reflect, take a time out, and relax a bit, which was what I needed. From what I understand, the horse will essentially force you to self-reflect and challenge you to determine what you need, better understand your emotions, and realize how your actions might be impacting those around you.

So…what will this do for first responders?! A LOT! One of the biggest complaints for first responders seeking mental health support is that their clinician just doesn’t get it or that it’s hard to open up to a clinician in a very medicalized square room in their office. Equine therapy offers an opportunity to be outside, be with nature, and talk to an animal that is just there for you. Being outside and in green spaces as a way of healing and connecting was a finding from my After the Alarm study. The horse doesn’t judge you, the horse helps you get where you need to be.

Now, I know this might not be for everyone, but these types of “alternative” therapies to traditional office type therapies might be just what you need.

AND! FLAR is starting a first responder program. If you have been looking for something and think this might be of interest, do it! *I will update this blog with more information about the program as it becomes available.*

*All public health protocols for COVID-19 were followed during this visit*

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