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Riding through challenges: Equine therapy, and much more for women with mental illnesses

A ranch near Sugar Land, Texas, uses therapy with horses to help young women struggling with mental illnesses. The program was developed in 2004 to assist women with depression, anxiety, personality dsiorders and continues to grow.



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Fulshear Ranch Academy is a residential treatment center for women between the ages of 18 and 24 in Needville, Texas. The quaint ranch has apartments in which the women can stay, several common buildings, a barn, and many acres of land. Life on the ranch consists of scheduled activities in which the women partake in each day. The treatment involves intensive psychotherapy, like-skills training, and equine therapy. Here is Allyson Smith, the Academy’s residential director, explaining a little bit about the program.

“Our program focuses on empowering and providing opportunities for women to become their best selves. We help them realize their potential and find passion for their life and kind of create where their life is going to go from here.”

The women in the program suffer from mental illnesses of all kinds, including depression, anxiety and personality disorders. Women also come to escape and overcome abusive pasts, trauma, and addiction. One of the most unique elements of the Fulshear program is the use of equine assisted psychotherapy, or EAP. Again, Allyson Smith.

“We have EAP groups, which is equine assisted psychotherapy, and they do that twice a week and then they also have riding times where our equine manager will help them learn how to ride. If they know how to ride, then they learn how to get better.”

But the EAP program is not just about riding. Allyson says that most of the time spent with the horses is on the ground. This time spent with the horses allows the women to directly confront their feelings.

“So if a girl is feeling withdrawn and isolated, usually the horse will become a little bit withdrawn. They won’t come up to them as much, so they will feedback exactly what the client is feeling.”

Besides the EAP held twice a week, the staff at Fulshear teach practical life skills. There is also family therapy as well as individual therapy for the clients on the Ranch. After the women feel they can move out into the working world, they are transferred to an extension of the academy in Sugar Land. They will be set up with an Apartment and will continue to receive help with their mental illnesses as well as finding a job.