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.