Who are you and what is your job title? My name is Linda Kingsbury and horses are my medicine. I am an Equine Facilitated Learning Instructor and Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning for the Behavioral Health horse program called LEAP (Lapwai Equine Assisted Program.)

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As a child growing up in New England I learned to have a love for the natural world from my Grandmothers. Now I live in Moscow Idaho where I’ve had a Holistic Health consultation practice since 1994. My work teaching natural medicine, local edible and medicinal plant use, and earth wisdom connections is expanding to helping people heal through the way of the horse.

It was my own health crisis that brought me to working with horses. I was feeling stuck and needed a new approach to move forward, so I asked for asked for guidance. Horses began showing up in my dreamtime and I was curious about what I saw. I started reading and researching about horse therapies. For more than two years I studied in Arizona to complete my EFL (Equine Facilitated Learning) certifications with EponaQuest Worldwide and PATH International (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship). I call my EFL business Horse Heart Connection because of my heart-felt experiences with horses. I am sharing this “miracle” ability of horses as healers, because they can bring connection, peace, and the relief of receiving unconditional acceptance to all who encounter them. My sister’s horses have been a source of comfort and stability for my son Jake who is an Iraq war veteran.

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How long has the program been in our community? My experience developing prevention programs in the personal growth and addictions field blended with my EFL training prepared me to bring this innovative way of being with horses to the community. Since March 2013 I have been developing and co-facilitating this personal development horse program in coordination with Donna Henry and Behavioral Health staff. Our horse teachers are eleven Appaloosas owned by the Chief Joseph Foundation.

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What did you offer this year? The NMPH Behavioral Health horse program focuses on personal growth, emotional skills, and social development through interactions with horses. We treat the horses as partners in learning by expanding horse-human communication gently and safely. The program is open to the whole community and transportation is provided out to the horses when needed. Participants learn through listening, observation, hands on grooming with the horses, longeing, natural horsemanship skills as well as, guided riding activities. There is a focus on self-regulation of emotional responses with increased mind-body-emotional-spiritual awareness in the present moment.

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How many students, adults were involved? So far we have had over 60 different students and adults involved in individual, group, or family sessions out with the horses. We also have given presentations to the High School Equine Science class, Boys and Girls Club, and the Senior Citizens. We have had displays and pictures of the program activities at the Women’s Health Fair, Powwows, Lapwai Days, LCSC Educational Summit, and YCEA achievement night, exposing many people to the program.

What did the students/adults learn from the program? Participants learn from the wisdom of the earth and the horses. They open their senses to nature, for example noticing how they feel and hear the wind in that moment, even noticing which direction it is coming from. Developing natural sensitivities through nature connection and the bodies multiple ways of learning is important in this technological age where many people spend most of their time inside around computers or televisions.

People who attend LEAP learn to work well as a team. They learn to listen and build trust in themselves and each other. They learn to ask for help in a safe and supportive environment. They learn to relax and enjoy time with the horses in their twelve acre home. They learn to express gratitude.

Ten youth and two adults from the Youth Cultural Enrichment Academy came out to the Behavioral Health horse program in July. They learned about the emotional and health benefits of being with horses in this type of Equine Assisted Activities. They had great fun expressing their creativity by decorating the horses with water-based paint during their last summer session.

There is scientific evidence now about the healing effects of being around horses. These include lowering blood pressure, reducing stress cortisol hormones, and boosting Oxytocin, the bond and befriend hormone. Oxytocin increases feelings of curiosity, optimism, and creativity and can improve motivation to learn. So you can see this program is a great benefit to the health of the community on many levels.

What’s coming up next? We’ll continue with afterschool groups for kids from 3:30-5:30 on Wednesdays for teen guys, Thursday for teen girls, and Fridays for kids K-5. Each group is open to 8 students for optimal learning.  In September we also start a 6 week program for Veterans on Wednesdays from 1:00-3:00. We will continue with individual and family sessions by appointment. LEAP will offer sessions through October 2013, then resume in the springtime in April, 2014 when the weather is ready. We are also collecting stories from the Senior Citizens and other community members who have a story to share about how horses have been a positive influence in their lives.

We want to express our gratitude to Chief Joseph Foundation for allowing us to work with their Appaloosas and conduct the program on their land. We want to thank the Nimiipuu Health and the Nez Perce Tribe for funding LEAP Lapwai Equine Assisted Program. We also want to extend a thank you to all the people who supported us in making the program a success this year.

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