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Horses focus of two graduate level courses

Used in Equine Assisted Family Therapy

Not far from Nova Southeastern University’s main campus in Davie is a quiet spot where students and faculty work with a different type of colleague: Horses.

Founded in 2009 by CAHSS Professor Shelley Green, Ph.D., and Valerie Judd, the nonprofit Stable Place manages a 15-acre property with a barnful of horses and is the location for the Department of Family Therapy’s two graduate courses in Equine Assisted Family Therapy. The horses are used for various types of therapy, including substance abuse, couples counseling and, more recently, abused children.

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Green is no stranger around horses, but she first heard about horses in therapy work at a conference in 2009 and partnered with Judd to create Stable Place. The property the nonprofit uses is provided by Amy Sperling.

“We started doing training for therapists and putting them through activities,” Green said. “They started learning about themselves.”

One therapy type with is carried out in partnership with Fort Lauderdale-based Couples on the Brink. The 12-hour intensive therapy includes a session at Stable Place, where couples are assigned a simple task in working with the horse. How the couple interacts while working with the horse is related to how their relationship is struggling.

“You have to find a way to partner with the horse, and that requires skill,” Green said. “It shows people how to work with each other. Horses respond to the energy and emotions of people.”

Judd, an orchestral musician by training, has loved horses her entire life and recognizes the effect they have on people.

“There’s a language without words and cooperation,” she said.

Students enrolled in the introductory and advanced courses work graduate assistants, doctoral interns and trained equine specialists like Judd and Herb McCauley, a former professional Thoroughbred horse racing jockey. However, students do not need to be familiar with horses to take the classes. Students and clients participate in different activities with the horses, but do not ride them.

“Most students have no idea about horses,” Green said. “The horses teach them how to create safe spaces and be better therapists.”

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Doctoral interns Michael Rolleston and Monica Schroeder, who are engaged to each other, both grew up around horses in their native Saratoga, NY, where Judd also hails from. Rolleston said therapy programs like substance abuse feature small groups of up to 10 and focus on group discovery. Although the horses remind Rolleston of home, he said working with them was an opportunity for both personal and professional development.

“I can fine tune my skills beyond the theoretical,” he said.

Schroeder was introduced to equine therapy when she took the introductory course and has stayed on since then. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Family Therapy and plans in the future to set up an equine therapy program in her native Saratoga.

“People loved the class and saw how beneficial it was,” she said. “You see the power of relating to a horse in a metaphoric way, see the behavior you’re stuck in and make a change.”

One of Stable Place’s recent efforts is a two-year grant from the Ware Foundation to partner with the FIU-BRIDGE program to provide treatment to children at the SOS Children’s Village Florida. Children will work with therapists and the equine specialists on tasks such as grooming and leading the horse through an obstacle course.

“It will add more research to the field on how to make a beneficial change in children’s lives,” Green said.

Stable Place is located at 5020 SW 73rd Ave., in Davie.

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