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Marge stood in a grassy meadow, exploring Mustard Seed Ranch. The sky was a flawless blue, the barn a cherry red and the grass a delicious green.
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Marge is a horse used for equine therapy, which the ranch provides to youth in Evergreen and surrounding areas. Clients work with the same horse each session in structured, small-group activities that focus on relationship building and healthy communication.
“As humans we are wired for connection, and their relationship with the horse provides that connection to these kids,” program director and therapist Mallory Nicklas said. “They get to see how capable they are of being vulnerable, of being empathetic, of being cared for by something.”
Nicklas believes that this hands-on work with the horses is helpful for youth who are struggling in traditional talk therapy. Clients learn how to care for a horse in addition to participating in therapy exercises with the animals.
“I feel like (my horse) understands me more than anyone else has ever understood me,” an equine therapy client said in a video produced by Mustard Seed Ranch. “Building this relationship with Bandit has helped me rebuild my relationship with my parents.”
As a licenced therapist with Mustard Seed Ranch, Nicklas is trained in Natural Lifemanship, which includes equine therapy. For her, part of what makes working with horses so unique is the fact that they provide “bio-feedback,” meaning that they are easy to read when interacting with a client. This helps clients be more aware of how they are communicating.
“I work a lot with kids who have experienced trauma, and I think their self worth and feeling loved by something and worth something when maybe they didn’t feel that way coming in has been really remarkable,” Nicklas said.
For Nicklas, this work is a labor of love. She grew up around horses and has always considered them a “safe healing space,” so in her sessions she looks to share this healing with clients. Equine therapy is larger than Nicklas, though. Mustard Seed Ranch has locations in other parts of Colorado and California, but their work in Evergreen is the product of collaboration with local nonprofits.
Bear Paw Connections provides the horses and space for the organization and Resilience1220, which offers free therapy for youth ages 12 to 20, helps connect clients with the ranch.
“Although it seems very different and unknown I think you’ll be very surprised about the effects the horses have on us. Just being in their presence is healing, but when we combine that with all the different activities we do and building that relationship with their horse, [clients] are surprised by how it translates into their daily lives,” Nicklas said.
More information about equine therapy can be found at mustardseedranch.org.
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