Supporting victims of trafficking with therapeutic horse riding for improved well-being

Finding hope and recovery

Horses can often have a unique sensitivity to people’s feelings and emotions. These strong, calming creatures can have a powerful effect to ease anxieties and reduce tension.

“Horses are beautiful, sensitive and intelligent,” said Katherine Huff, lead riding instructor at Mckenna Farms. “It’s very special to see the bond that can be made between horse and human.”

This connection can have a profound impact on those struggling with their mental health, substance abuse and more. In Georgia, this practice, also known as equine-assisted services or therapy, is used to help victims of sex trafficking on their journey to recovery.

The long-term effects of human trafficking can be daunting. This may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse

Organizations like Wellspring Living help provide a safe space to heal for victims of trafficking through transformative care. Wellspring Living’s mission is to provide education, life skills, counseling, career readiness and access to job opportunities, in order to restore and transform lives

“Our goal is for them to gain as many skills as possible,” said Dalton McGee, program director of the Receiving Hope Center, a center run by Wellspring Living and Georgia’s first residential intake center for trafficked youth.

Part of that journey is healing — which is where equine-assisted services and therapeutic horse riding come into play. To help expand these services, UnitedHealthcare provided a $100,000 grant for an enrichment coordinator and nutritionist to increase these therapeutic services to help boost emotional management and coping skills.

“I can’t even begin to go into detail how paramount this is,” Dalton said. “Having that enrichment coordinator to be able to be that liaison and build those connections with us. Being able to connect with a community partner that’s close by and go to McKenna Farms and have equine therapy is light years beyond what some of our youth even thought about experiencing.”

The experience at McKenna Farms is a highlight for many recovering victims. One wrote in a journal, “I never in my life imagined … riding any animal, especially a horse. It was actually one of my biggest fears, but once I went to the horse farm here in Dallas, I faced my fear. Grooming the horses and riding them is so therapeutic.”

“Our Therapeutic Riding and Horsemanship program is how we are able to offer services to different organizations, such as Wellspring Living,” Katherine said. “We’re able to cater to a large community of people in need.”

Many of the youth who come to McKenna Farms from Wellspring Living for these services have never seen a horse in person or let alone spent much time in nature, so the opportunity to ride, groom and feed the animals creates confidence. The program uses journaling to help focus their feelings and discuss with therapists at a later date, in order to work through those emotions.

“You are able to form that bond with them and work on your communication with the horse. It becomes a partnership,” Katherine said. “It’s so interesting when you see someone who comes here because they have gone through a challenging past and then they are able to become a leader and sort of show the horse the way. It is really neat when you see them sort of have that breakthrough of ‘Wow, this horse is listening to me.’”

“If you have access to an animal, you are grounding yourself in nature like you have never grounded before,” Dalton said. “It’s just amazing when they come back and their whole attitude has shifted.”

Learn more information about Wellspring Living, Receiving Hope Center and McKenna Farms.


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