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Positively Milwaukee: Horses helping people resolve mental struggles

Posted at 10:35 AM, Apr 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-19 11:35:11-04

Personal growth and improvement – that’s a goal for staff at Stepping Stone Farm. Some of the farm’s best teachers might surprise you.

Horses are a relatively new addition to Nicole Shannon’s life, but her short time at Stepping Stone Farm has led to some big changes.

“I was more confident, I was more comfortable speaking up, being assertive and I knew that the horses had quite a bit to do with that,” she says.

Nicole is an Equine Assisted Coach, but she started with Equine Assisted Learning. She says you don’t even need to ride a horse to get the benefits.

“I think, first of all, they’re so present,” she says.

Stepping Stone Farm’s founder Lia Sader says that presence is why horses can be so therapeutic.

“They’re really big, but they will totally give back what you are giving out,” Lia says. “So, if you’re giving out love, they’re going to give that love back to you. If you’re in a bad mood, they’re going to give that back to you, too.”

Seeing your moods and behavior reflected in a horse can really spur some personal growth. Lia says she brings a client and a horse into the arena and just lets it run free.

That’s all it takes for a horse to do some pretty impressive work.

“They do that by being present, being aware of their surroundings, being really tuned into each other and in turn they’re really tuned into us,” Nicole says. “So, that’s how they just naturally reflect back what’s going on inside of us.”

“A question we might ask is, ‘why do you think the horse is doing this?’” Lia says. “And then we would ask questions like, ‘where else does this occur in your life?’ And work to see if there’s a way to help people through what they’re experiencing.”

Stepping Stone Farm has seen a lot of success through Equine Assisted Learning. Lia says she’s had a few selectively mute kids who became much more talkative. In hopes of helping even more people, Lia is starting up a program just for women.

She’s had an uptick in sessions because of the pandemic.

“A lot of kids really came in, in a bad way, struggling with just not having their friends around, not being able to interact with people,” Lia says. “So that’s what we’ve seen a lot of recently, a lot of anxiety and depression and kids just shutting down.”

Even if a horse is reacting strongly to your emotions, Lia says that’s still a chance to learn.

“You can put a lead rope on and then you are literally haltering your anxiety,” she says.

“Horses have so much to teach us about being better humans,” Nicole adds. “There’s so much that they can give back to us and that’s why I’m really excited about doing this work.”

Learn more about the program on the farm's website.

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