Gateway Family Services

Some of the best teachers have four legs, or at least that’s what Gateway Family Service of Illinois client I.G. says. She credits Sonny, one of the mental health agency’s therapy horses, with helping her when life was hard. “In my darkest times, knowing I would be able to get out to the ranch and spend time with Sonny kept me going,” I.G. admits. 

Sonny is one of 15 therapy animals that partner with skilled clinicians and equine professionals to help clients heal and reconnect. According to Gateway clinical therapist Gabby Remole, the agency’s unique approach allows children, families, veterans and others to address challenging behaviors and build relationship skills outside the clinical setting.  

“I have seen healing and ‘ah-ha’ moments happen more quickly and more organically in equine-assisted therapy sessions that I ever have in talk therapy sessions,” she explains. “Animals have the ability to connect with people who aren’t able or ready to build relationships with other humans.” 

Equine therapy isn’t magic, but Gabby admits it sometimes feels magical. Especially when you’re in the presence of Gateway’s intuitive horses. “We could not do this work without them,” she says. “They are our partners, co-workers and family, and we work hard to ensure our horses benefit just as much as the humans.” 

Gateway Family Services of IL

In the course of his 27 years, Charlie has endured more than any horse should. Perhaps it’s those life experiences that enable him to sense when he’s needed most. One evening, as he was quietly having supper in his stall, a young girl began to pour her heart out to him, sharing how she would end her life. As she began to cry, Charlie approached her, stretched out his head and gave the hurting girl a hug, pulling her to his chest and holding her tight. In that moment, the young girl realized that she had a friend in Charlie, and with help of her counseling team, began to see a way forward.

A dramatic example, to be sure, but one that clearly illustrates the power of equine-assisted therapy at Gateway Family Services of IL. The non-profit group offers trauma-focused equine-assisted psychotherapy, as well as art, play, sand and nature therapies to help individuals and families reeling from the effects of trauma.

Founded by Michael Remole, the Gateway team brings together clinicians, equine professionals, mentors, respite providers and tutors. This multidisciplinary team works with youth in the foster care system and post-adoption, as well as students and families that have experienced trauma, helping them find hope and healing.

“Our unique approach focuses on building healthy relationships between the student and the horse,” Michael explains. “This model also incorporates rhythmic riding, which helps address the different parts of the brain that have been impacted by trauma.” Unlike traditional “talk” therapy, at Gateway Family Services, clients learn to improve relationships and address challenging behaviors outside the clinical setting. The horses provide a dynamic way to practice those critical skills.

“Many families encounter times when they need additional support,” Michael notes. At Gateway Family Services, those in need can find help – and an occasion hug – from a team of understanding horses and the professional staff who guide each therapeutic session.