May is Mental Health Awareness month and the Natural Helpers club at Walt Whitman High School created thoughtful ways to keep their peers in the best mental state with help from HorseAbility. HorseAbility is a not-for-profit organization located on the SUNY Old Westbury campus, offering a variety of Equine Assisted Services for therapy, recreation, sport, education and/or wellness. On Wednesday, May 12th, the Natural Helpers hosted two therapy ponies from HorseAbility as part of Mental Health Awareness Week. Through their interactions with these loving and calm animals, teens learn to develop similar soothing, emotion-regulating behaviors. Leadership students and life skills classes at Walt Whitman participated, and from the sight of these therapeutic ponies outside of the high school’s main office, students and staff alike all wanted to join and de-stress.
Before interacting with the miniature horses, students pledged their awareness to the importance of mental health. Club advisors Ms. Hirsch-Backman and Mr. Milazzo have been bringing Mental Health Awareness to the forefront for the last 3 years and have been diligent in coming up with ways to help their students manage and reduce stress and anxiety.
HorseAbility Executive Director, Katie McGowan, has two children at Walt Whitman, and gladly took the opportunity to share her gift with her children and their peers. “These horses are utilized as a tool for treatment,” she shared while describing the positive effects hippotherapy has on the many people who seek this service.
“Hippos” is the greek word for horse. The term hippotherapy refers to how occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language pathology professionals use the purposeful manipulation of equine movement as a therapy tool to engage sensory, neuromotor and cognitive systems to promote functional outcomes. Operating for 28 years, Horseability provides year round physical, occupational and speech-language pathology services to children and adults with special needs, skillfully applying the movement of the horse to improve gross and fine motor function and communicative skills.
These therapeutic ponies can be seen in a variety of settings outside of the SUNY Old Westbury stables and 20-acre farm. Miniature horses like Pearl and Aiden have worked with people of all ages with physical and emotional difficulties. Their mild and docile manner make them great bedside companions during hospital and nursing home visits, bringing a sense of calm to anyone from children with developmental disabilities to veterans and those suffering from depression and anxiety.
We are beyond thankful to have been able to host HorseAbility, and our staff and students would agree! The smiles and joy brought on by the simple act of engaging with these gentle animals truly set the tone for a stress-free day. Our students couldn’t help but want to reach out and pet Pearl and Aiden, take pictures with them, and want to stay as long as possible to give themselves a mindful break from a schedule of constant demands.
To learn more about HorseAbility, visit their website at https://www.horseability.org/