Little horses at The Stable Way provide help in therapy
Amy Wertenberger, M.A., L.L.P.C. started The Stable Way as part of her therapy practice, but working in equine therapy has been her dream since high school. A teenager when she first started working with and showing horses, Wertenberger learned about equine-assisted therapy in her senior year of high school. At that time, she traveled to Chicago with her mother for a training program in the practice. Inspired, Wertenberger went to Siena Heights University and earned a bachelor of arts in psychology and just recently completed her master of arts in community counseling at Siena. She is now a licensed counselor in the State of Michigan, working as a case manager and therapist with homeless veterans at Harbor Light in Monroe.
Wertenberger’s therapy program is not like traditional ride therapy, and she doesn’t do talk therapy on a horse. The combination of troubled children, teens, or adults and her horses help Wertenberger understand a client’s issues, even when the client isn’t able to communicate problems. From there she can help her clients make connections that allow them to heal.
“The idea is that it’s an experiential process,” Wertenberger said.
Therapy begins in an enclosed ring with Wertenberger’s herd of mini horses. Wertenberger gives the client a task to complete, like placing the halter on a horse and then lets the client work through to find the solution. No directions are given.
Wertenberger observes the behaviors and responses of her clients, and helps them make connections about their experience in the ring and their own behavior.
“You build therapy through what you’re seeing and what is being said,” she said. “You just link everything metaphorically.”
She doesn’t give detailed instructions or explanations, because the activity would change from a therapy session to a horsemanship lesson, according to Wertenberger.
Horses are helpful for people needing therapy because of how they respond to people. “Horses are completely honest,” said Wertenberger. “Their communication is all nonverbal.”
Nonverbal communication is often an area where children and teens struggle. By working with the horses, people learn not only how important nonverbal communication is, but how to master nonverbal techniques.
Wertenberger works one-on-one with patients, as well as with families or groups. Equine therapy is a perfect way to focus on teamwork and creative thinking. Besides dressing horses, clients may also get the task of having a horse make a jump.
The one thing that does not happen during therapy sessions is horseback riding. Mini horses are not big enough for riding, and Wertenberger emphasizes the time spent in the ring is not riding lessons, it’s a work activity. She creates activities that are individually suited for each client’s need, and feels mini horses create a sense of comfort for clients with no farm or animal experience.
“They’re not as intimidating,” said Wertenberger, “and they work well in a smaller area.”
Sometimes, a client may never be comfortable in the ring. At that point, the therapy moves back into a traditional office setting, which Wertenberger also has on-site.
“I’m flexible,” she said. “I’m open to whatever works best,”
Her main group of three mini horses is relatively docile, but sometimes Wertenberger brings her rescue mini horses into the ring as an added challenge. Her three main horses are mellow and not affected by the emotional or behavior issues of her clients. The rescue minis tend to be more skittish and are a good challenge for those who need work controlling emotions. She also has two full size horses, one is retired from the show life and the other is about to retire, who occasionally join clients needing an even bigger challenge in the ring.
In addition to seeing her own clients, Wertenberger hopes to work with psychologists to offer her facility as an addition to their office practice. She is currently accepting new clients, and can make appointments on Monday, Tuesday evening, Wednesday morning, Thursday evening and Friday.
The Stable Way is located 10 minutes outside of Tecumseh on Billmyer Highway. Wertenberger can be reached at 423.0763 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is on the website, thestableway.com.