Hope, Help, Horses

Kristin Witte-Hubbard requests a formal connection from an equine partner at Courage Ranch. Witte-Hubbard is a Licensed Professional Therapist at Courage Ranch of Karnes County.

A horse barn is not a traditional location for mental health work, but Courage Ranch of Floresville is bringing their unique and proven method of equine-assisted psychotherapy to Karnes County.

The new location will be at the Karnes County Humane Organization at 8845 S Hwy 181 in Kenedy.

Clients are paired with a horse or donkey, an equine professional and a therapist. The equine professional focuses on the horse’s behavior and connectedness in relation to the client. The therapist focuses on the client and any specific issues they may be having. The client works at building a relationship with the horse or donkey. Through the process of connecting with the animal, the client will learn about themself and their trauma.

“Horses tend to live in their brain stem and our clients tend to do the same because of the trauma they’ve experienced. The process they go through is really beautiful,” Courage Ranch Licensed Professional Counselor Kristin Witte-Hubbard said.

Research suggests that a horse’s brain is similar to that of a trauma survivor. Horses in the wild are prey animals. This makes the hyper-vigilant and in one-on-one scenarios with clients, highly attuned to a client’s verbal and non-verbal communication. The creation of natural patterns and the modeling of healthy relationships allows clients to identify trauma triggers and manage their future responses.

“People who have anxiety tend to live out here instead of right here in the moment and exercises like this help rewire your brain and get you focused and in the present moment while being mindful of what’s going on,” Witte-Hubbard said.

“Being able to work with clients outside is a blessing all its own because you get to walk and see and feel and smell things that ground you in your environment,” Executive Director Leann Drozd added. “That’s a huge tool. When a person feels safe and secure in their environment and feels safe with the therapist and they get out of their head, they get to a place where they can have a relationship and talk about things. Sometimes things come up and sometimes they don’t.”

Sessions at Courage Ranch are experiential; it’s like combining traditional talk-therapy with practical, hands-on action. Though everyone involved in the session has an idea of what they want to experience in the round pen, each session is unique and sometimes reveals the unexpected.

“When I talk about making a formal request for connection, I have an idea for what I want that to look like, but the horse may be in a different place that day so they may ignore it the whole time,” Witte-Hubbard said. “It’s easy to get frustrated and want to give up or we might carry a lot of energy in that frustration. We find that in a lot of adults and kids who have experienced trauma. It just comes out and its a great opportunity because it happens in the moment and then we’re able to get them to tell us whats going on with them. And we get to find out if that is something that happens in their relationships with different people outside of therapy.”

Drozd believes that the unique nature of the therapy and the hands-on approach is the reason for client success.

“I think people like us because we’re different. It’s not therapy in a room with four walls, sitting on a couch. The experiential part of it is so valuable and I think that we will be wildly successful in helping people because of it,” Drozd said.

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