Melissa Hauserman knows animals can reach vulnerable people in ways humans cannot. She’s witnessed their special connection time again through her work at In Step With Horses, the equine therapy center she helped start.
“Talk therapy doesn’t work for everyone,” she explains. For some, an experiential therapy program, like the equine model used at In Step, enables breakthroughs that might never happen in a traditional office setting. As Melissa says: “Animals show us how to be better humans.”
The non-profit, which pairs clients with licensed therapists and therapy animals, works with veterans, first responders, survivors of violence and human trafficking, and persons living with chronic mental health conditions. The goal: to help people process trauma and learn new coping skills to improve their lives.
As an example of the In Step magic, Melissa shares the story of a 13-year-old teen and an aging Hackney-cross pony. “Sarah” lived at a residential foster care facility, after spending most of a year on the street. For months, she made weekly visits to In Step as part of a small group therapy program – but fear kept her away from the animals at the barn. Supported by In Step’s caring staff, she eventually agreed to walk into the arena with a horse. She chose G-Whiz, and he became her horse.
“Sarah built an incredible, life-changing relationship with Whiz,” Melissa recalls. “He would whinny to her when he heard her enter the barn and call his name, and she felt accepted and loved.” Filled with newfound confidence, she began to form relationships with people at the barn and the residential facility. “Whiz changed her life by giving her unconditional love and support,” Melissa says. “She found her voice and gained the confidence to connect with others.”