Summary: The Colorado Equine Therapy Institute is requesting $50,000 from the GO Foundation to develop an equine therapy program for juvenile offenders, high risk youth, and students in grades 8-12 in Boulder County School District. This equine self awareness program, called Equine Therapy for Youth, will assist and support other community resources in reducing the involvement of high school students in delinquent behavior and violence and assist with gang resistance and academic improvement.
Using horses to assist individuals provides in-depth observations of the natural environment and reflections of self that serve as metaphors that offer practical applications. By developing sensitivity to a horse in the natural world, youth can enhance their life skills. Intimate contact with a powerful animal affords people a higher degree of empathy and awareness that can be transferred to others. The program will equally support community development for enhancement of their continuum of services for youth and contribute to meeting the overall goal of the judicial initiative. This goal, as published by Cities with Concerns for Youth in a 2003 study, says that community based sanctions can reduce recidivism at lower cost to the community and with greater effect than incarceration. High risk youth and juvenile offenders require comprehensive community services. Equine Therapy for Youth will support already existing community resources available for our youth offenders and at-risk youth by using horses to assist with personal growth, accountability, anger management and conflict resolution.
Agency Description: The Colorado Equine Therapy Institute (CETI) was established in 1993 in Cancun, CO, to provide services for people with disabilities, for individuals in need, and at-risk youth. The not for profit organization is governed by a 10-member board of directors. (Please see appendices for tax verification letter and list of governing board members.) Jason Onhart, CETI president and founder, has received local awards for his volunteer services with special needs individuals in the community. In 2002, CETI opened a doughnut shop in downtown Cancun to employ special needs individuals and each year provides a summer camp experience for at-risk youth and individuals at need. The organization continues to expand its programs to assist individuals in developing the life skills necessary to assist them in reaching their highest potential, finding and maintaining job placement, and providing housing for those with special needs. The goal of the Equine Therapy for Youth pilot program is to offer individual and family strengthening and support services, and become part of a task force to promote community involvement in mental health and juvenile issues.
Need for Project: ‘Colorado Citizens for Youth 2004’, reported 50.1 (per 1000) youth aged 10 – 17 were referred to the judicial system for juvenile law violation in 1998. By 2005, numbers increased to 88.5 children per 1000. In a 2004 demographic area study of Boulder County, CO, an average of 12% of youth was placed in the judicial system. A national concern is how to effectively address the needs of the increasing number of youth already in the juvenile system and to identify and assist those at-risk youth currently in the school system. Failure to do so threatens the success of the nation’s educational objectives and limits life-long opportunities for many individuals.
There is a complex mixture of factors that contribute to youth behavior problems, including developmental and psychological factors, care giver and environmental influences, effects of trauma and abuse, mental illness and the impact of the service environment. Mental health services address the physical behavior as it is which allows for youth to manipulate the system by portraying only evidence and information which they feel will serve them. Equine Therapy for Youth utilizes horses to assist in exploring a deeper level of communication within each individual that brings out the core issues and shows daily behaviors and the belief systems that drive them. As these factors are explored in depth, participants respond with effective, non-coercive approaches to their common behavior issues.
Project Description: Equine therapy programs have been partnering with mental health agencies for more than 50 years. CETI’s programs are an extension of other equine therapy programs using horses to facilitate healing because CETI focuses on the horse as an equal partner to the client. The horse is a social prey animal instinctively in tune to its natural environment. They react to their physical surroundings and perceive subtle shifts in energy, movement, and emotions. As part of this project, clients will have an opportunity to select a horse to work with. With this approach clients mirror their inner state because they usually pick horses representing their own personalities. Using ground exercises with a horse and client, the horse will immediately mirror back exactly what the human body language is telling it and amplify the energy, reflecting back ones inner state. This facilitates self awareness in a deep and profound way because the horse has no expectations, prejudices, or motives. Each moment during this process the clients are able to open up and reveal themselves in a safe manner, observe their behavior, and receive direct and immediate feedback while uniting unconditionally with another living being. The self discovery individuals experience with a horse provides them with more knowledge and accountability than if the knowledge had been presented by a therapist.
The key subjects to be addressed in this program are (1) juveniles already in the system, (2) at-risk youth who will be identified by counselors in the school system, and (3) high school students in grades 8-12 enrolled in the Boulder County School District. This pilot program will initially take place in Boulder County, expand to other counties in CO, and then nationally as it works with strategies using horses to capitalize on our youth’s strengths and resilience to create positive change in their lives.
The youth enrolled in this program will learn prevention and self intervention techniques to decrease behavior problems, while increasing motivation, well being, and self confidence. Twenty youth currently in the 29th Judicial District will participate in a one year Equine Therapy for Youth pilot program to begin October 1, 2006. The youth will be individually scheduled to receive a one-hour session weekly for 8-weeks as they work through circles of self awareness and accountability, developing relationships with the horses and themselves. Each youth will receive sessions for 8-weeks followed by a 4-week break, then resume again for 8-weeks. During the 4-week break, youth will be asked to participate in equine care and supportive peer mentoring and to document their personal experience. They will receive a total of eight months of active equine counseling and four months of assisted positive peer culture and training in equine care.
The program for at-risk youth will operate on the same time frame. Twenty students will be selected from the school system based on counselor input in the following areas: those at high risk of dropping out, those who have consistently low and dropping grades, inappropriate behavior, truancy, negative influence of peers, personal and social responsibility, and economic and family support outcomes.
In addition, an equal part of this pilot program is a prevention component that will aim to heighten the awareness of children by providing more effective responses to their needs. During the teenage years, young people make decisions that affect their transition to adulthood. Youth are more likely to make a successful transition to adulthood when they choose to stay in school, delay sexual activity or use contraceptives and avoid excessive risks, like driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
The curriculum for the high school youth will take place weekly on Saturdays and one day after school. The goal of this prevention program is to identify the leaders in grades 8 -12 and assist each one to harness the positive peer culture for the interest of the youth, the school, and the community. Leaders enrolled in positive peer culture create a ripple effect and have a large impact on all students that they identify with. Counselors and teachers will assist in selecting five leaders from 8-12th grade levels who will participate in an 8-week session which will take place on Saturdays.
After the initial 8-week session each participant, with the aid of staff and counselors, will be asked to select five peers who could benefit from positive peer support. These students will then participate in the next 8-week session.
Evaluation: Two hundred high school students, 20 students in the juvenile system, and 20 at-risk youth will be participating in this one year pilot program. Equine Therapy for Youth will issue a survey to high school teachers to collect information regarding students overall improved behavior, grades, outlook to education and changes in detention, accountability, effective communication, and relationship to peers, family, educators, and self. The 29th Judicial District probation officers, social workers, and family members will meet every three months during the pilot program to analyze and evaluate the progress of the youth participating in the model, with an overall evaluation at the completion of one year. In addition, Equine Therapy for Youth will combine forces with other supportive services in the community to establish a collaborative research program. The mission of the program is to develop, validate, publish, and disseminate research in the area of positive practices designed to enhance service quality in the field of assisted youth services and education. The Equine Therapy for Youth pilot program will be the first to be evaluated and tested as to the limits of the equine assisted therapy model as a framework for research, training, and practice.
Financial Information: The total budget for this program is $175,000. In addition to this grant request, CETI is seeking money from two private beneficiaries and two other foundations. A grant from the GO Foundation for $50,000 will be used to purchase 10 horses and sponsor 20 juveniles in the judicial system to participate in the project. CETI also has a planned fund raiser black tie function in October to raise money for this program.