An eight-week program at a Milford youth detention center is giving students lifelong lessons.
Since 2018, the Stevenson House Detention Center has offered an equestrian program for pre-adjudicated juveniles, helping them develop calming and coping skills while building their confidence.
“It ties very nicely with the horses,” said Katie Joseph, a school psychologist. “They have to know where they are to work with the horse.”
Participants start in the classroom learning how to recognize their emotions and then have an hour of recreation time with the horses.
Joseph works with Kelly Boyer, an instructor at Broad View Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies. They each have three horses that they bring to the facility for the students to work with.
“It's all groundwork,” Boyer said. “They set goals for themselves and the horses.”
Participants learn how to groom a horse, lead the horse, and eventually guide it through a series of obstacles.
The instant feedback from a horse helps a juvenile learn how to change their body language. Joseph said she sees excellent progress in they way students adopt new coping skills.
“They learn how to soften their position and settle themselves,” she said.
Many of the participants have never been around a 1,200-pound animal such as a horse, and approaching a large animal can be a daunting task. Boyer said students learn how to collaborate with one another and support those who are scared.
“They encourage each other,” she said. “Some students are terrified of being around the horses.”
For those who overcome their fear, a horse show is held at the end of the program so they can share their skills with family members. Students lead their horses over poles, across a tarp and around other obstacles, acquiring points in the timed event. Ribbons are given out to the first- through sixth-place finishers.
Boyer said it's heartwarming to see the sense of accomplishment between horse and student.
“They hold their ribbon and beam with pride,” she said.