CHATFIELD – The drive on Olmsted County Road 19 in mid-autumn shows the beautiful trees, along the road winding with Kinney Creek.
Take a bend on County Road 139 and halfway between Stewartville and Chatfield is HOPE Ranch, a 10-acre ranch where Kit Muellner serves clients as a therapist.
For the past 13 years, Brianne Olson has driven this route to HOPE Ranch.
Muellner doesn’t have a traditional therapist’s office, the one movies usually depict as sterile clean rooms, a sofa for the patient opposite the doctor’s chair. This is the scene Olson has been part of so many times, in previous therapists she has seen.
Instead, Muellner’s office is more of a living room (although a couch still sits across from two chairs). But there is a dog, Sadie, and cats wandering around the office. And outside is a barn where the horses stay. Muellner offers traditional psychotherapy — where she talks with clients in the salon — but she also offers horse-assisted psychotherapy.
At first glance, using animals to help clients overcome a wide range of mental health issues doesn’t make much sense. How do animals, especially horses, help?
Turns out, for Olson in particular, having animals around during her therapy helped her more than any other therapist she’s seen since she was 15.
During her first appointment, Olson said she “told (Muellner) things that I hadn’t told any other therapists or wasn’t ready to share yet.” She had never found solace in therapists’ offices or connected with a therapist on such a deep level.
Muellner’s calm and gentle demeanor was part of what helped Olson open up. The other part was the animals that hung around the living room during the sessions.
“I spent a lot of my sessions on the floor petting Honey (Muellner’s former dog) or brushing her or brushing the cats,” Olson said. “I’m a big animal lover, so that helped seal it too. Because it’s like, you know, animals – they know, they can pick up on that stuff.
After a few months at HOPE Ranch, Olson attempted his first horse-assisted session. It was a group session with other girls her age. She used to go to the stable and pet the horses during sessions, but Olson had yet to incorporate horses into her therapy sessions.
At first, Olson said she would try to go do something with the horses, but she “was so down that I couldn’t even participate.”
“So I think most of the time I was just able to see them and stay with them and clean them, feed them, brush their hair and stuff,” she said.
But that’s actually when horse-assisted therapy works, Muellner said.
“Horses do their therapy even when you feel like you’re not able to participate,” she said. “It’s not about being able to do what we suggested you do. It’s about what happens inside between you and the horses.
Muellner has a personal love for horses, and when she opened HOPE Ranch in 1999, she was able to combine her passion for helping people with her love of horses.
Equine-assisted psychotherapy practiced by Muellner is called the EAGALA model, which is a set structure for sessions. There are a few basic rules that are always practiced with this model: the horse, the client, and the therapist all work together as a team; the client never mounts and rides the horse, so all work with the horses is on the ground; and the therapist does not order or direct clients to do anything. It’s more of a solution-focused approach — clients experiment, take their own risks, learn patience, and find solutions that work for them.
It’s a different model of therapy, but one that works for a lot of people.
“(Horses are) almost like a mirror,” Olson said. “Whatever you feel, they don’t mimic your emotion, like in a human way, per se. You don’t feel judged, you feel comforted. In a way, you feel seen, and you feel feel heard, and you feel supported.
When Olson goes to the barn to work with the horses – especially her favorite horse, Little Joe – it seems to the average person that she’s just petting the horse, picking the straw off its back and licking it. hugging in his arms.
All this is true from a visual point of view. But there is an experience that happens between the horse and the client that is nothing but an experience.
“Because they’re prey, they’re very tuned in to what’s going on, and their behavior reflects that,” Muellner said. This is where therapy comes in. Instead of having a human look at you and telling you what’s wrong, clients get this feedback from the horses.
“It’s harder to discuss (your behavior) when it’s the animal throwing things back at you,” Muellner said.
Although Olson has been involved in Equine Assisted Therapy for years and understands why and how it works, it is still difficult for him to put his experience into words for others.
“You just need to go stand next to a horse and pet it and cry for an hour,” she said, “and then come back to me and tell me how you feel afterwards. .”
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