Equine Therapy in Belle Mead
By Melanie Zhang | January 4, 2022
A group of horses, donkeys, and goats are helping people to live happier, healthier lives through the Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) Program at Carrier Clinic in Belle Mead. The program, which incorporates interaction with animals as a part of mental health treatment, began in 2006, and has expanded over the years, with a new barn and wider access for patients being recent developments.
In January 2020, Carrier also welcomed Horsemanship Coach Mary Ann Brewer, who currently runs the program. Apart from Carrier’s EAP program, Brewer runs In the Company of Horses Inc, primarily working with sports teams and corporate groups. At Carrier, she works with patients at both the main hospital and the East Mountain Youth Lodge, and always with a mental health professional involved.
Brewer is quick to note her role is as a facilitator. The animals are “doing the work.” The program includes two miniature donkeys, two goats, and two horses named Gemma and Hope. Even though participants do not ride the horses, the impact is profound. Patients are able to find ways to talk about difficult topics when working with animals. At the same time, patients gain confidence.
According to Brewer, when some kids arrive in the program, “they’re really afraid. Everything’s new. You’ll watch as they grow into being part of the community,” becoming more connected with the animals and more involved in the program, with some even beginning to mentor and help newer patients learn the ropes.
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People who are unused to horses learn to figure out how to operate in situations where they are afraid or where there’s something unfamiliar, and it provides a “safe emotional space for them to test out new ways of being.”
For teenagers, the large size of a horse matters. A 1200 pound horse is difficult to ignore, promoting engagement even among patients who would otherwise check out. She adds that teenagers typically press the limits and boundaries in life, she says. “If we only had small animals, they might get a wrong sized sense of themselves.”
Brewer says there are capital improvements coming to the physical space, including dry (mud-proof) lot. She says she hopes to expand the program and have more permanent structures built, especially near the main hospital building itself. “Some horse-crossing signs would also be good,” she says, noting that while the horses can usually cross the street en-route quickly enough, the goats have a little more trouble.