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Inspiring growth through equine-facilitated learning
Posted Tuesday, November 29, 2022 7:00 pm
By STEPHANIE BERNABA
Stone Hill Elementary School students were treated to sensory delights on Nov. 23. The students, all in grades 3 through 5 and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, visited Equi Evolution in Cumberland to have lunch with and learn a bit about their horses.
Stone Hill art teacher Marisa Iacovone suggested the trip to her administration after attending a yoga class with a friend at the farm. During her visit, she learned about the services provided by Equi Evolution, which focuses primarily on cultivating well-being in the presence of equine companions.
The trip fit perfectly into her curriculum for the students, most of whom are nonverbal. The group had recently been working on nature projects, and Iacovone felt a visit to the farm fit quite well into that framework. She was also quite enthusiastic about the possibility of providing a field trip experience to these students, as most or all of them had never been on a field trip due to the pandemic.
Iacovone credited her principal, Tricia Rotondo, for approving the trip, and the Feinstein Foundation for generously providing the funding to make it possible.
Equi Evolution, founded by Samantha Thorpe, provides Equine-Facilitated Learning (EFL), which focuses on improving emotional health and overall wellness. The cognitive behavioral-based program does not include riding, but an array of other activities to help increase mindfulness and foster an improved state of well-being.
“We’re going to really encourage these kids to touch and engage with all of their senses in a variety of items we have on the farm,” Thorpe explained prior to the school’s visit. “So really our goal is to get these kids to engage with those and maybe learn a bit about what it’s like taking care of horses.”
Thorpe offers one-on-one as well as group sessions, and online learning and instruction to those who wish to become EFL practitioners. The farm currently houses five horses and a donkey, all of which have either been rescued or are in retirement/semi-retirement situations. Though she does not provide traditional equine therapy (which includes riding), Thorpe does utilize a network of neighboring farms and services when such an experience is requested.
The core of Equi Evolution’s mission is to inspire growth through equine-facilitated learning, wellness coaching and education with a strong foundation in compassionate horsemanship and connection with the natural world.
“They have a lot to teach us about how to be present in the moment,” Thorpe explained.
Various items were set up on a table in the horses’ barn, including several brushes and three types of food: hay, feed cubes and carrots. Students, their caregivers and school faculty all engaged with the items as well as fed and brushed the horses and donkey.
The group got up close and personal with the horses, who were accustomed to groups of visitors, and farm staff was available to explain the horses’ behaviors, preferences and share the ways the farm takes care of them.
Students, staff and caregivers also observed and experienced the paddock – a few students enjoyed a rocking bench on the farm porch, and all were able to spend time with the horses and donkey inside the barn.
Equi Evolution’s Wellness With Horses Makes RI Its Home
November 6, 2021
RI Blogger recently visited Equi Evolution, a learning and wellness facility tucked away on a private horse farm in beautiful Cumberland, RI. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Founder & Director, Samantha “Sam” Thorpe and EFL Practitioner, Lia Catanzaro. Instantly you feel the passion from Sam and Lia, this is not just an occupation, it’s a lifestyle, it’s doing something that matters.
Touring the quaint and tranquil horse farm that opened in Rhode Island in February of this year was truly special. The farm residents consisting of four majestic horses and the adorable mini donkey were more than gracious and gentle during our meet and greet. It was apparent from the onset, there is a sense of love and trust between the staff and the horses that reside on the farm. Make no mistake, this is not a traditional horse farm, there is no mounting or riding. It is all about interaction and trust from both parties. Even the corralled barns have no doors, the horses select indoor or outdoor, rest or play time.
Equine-Facilitated Learning (EFL) is a therapeutic, experiential learning program that facilitates meaningful interactions with horses to improve mental health and wellness. The therapy provides tools to navigate life in a joyful way. Participants work directly with the farm’s horses, learning effective skills to achieve mindfulness and improve self-esteem, communication, and relationship development. The core principles of the Equi Evolution program come from a variety of internationally recognized equine learning programs.
As Sam Thorpe pointed out, “every client is unique, there are many aspects to the customized services that we can provide”. For this reason, Equi Evolution offers a no obligation on-farm consultation to determine how they can help, and if its right for you.
Finding your herd
Horses help and ‘hold space’ on the road to inner peace
LAURA COLANTONIO, Editorial & Design Team Coordinator Apr 21, 2021
CUMBERLAND – Cumberland has some new residents, and they’ve arrived with a purpose – to create calm for people who may be searching for a way to find some tranquility. They’re intuitive, non-judgmental, authentic … and they also happen to be horses.
Equi Evolution, a therapeutic experiential learning program where people interact with horses to improve mental health and wellness, arrived at 215 Scott Road about two months ago, said Executive Director Sam Thorpe, after running the program for more than two years out of Rehoboth, Mass.
Thorpe said that while many people are familiar with the idea of therapeutic riding, or hippotherapy, which typically addresses physical disabilities, learning disabilities and cognitive functioning, “our program is a little different. It is geared toward mental health,” she said.
Equi Evolution’s programs do not generally involve riding (though they will refer people who are interested to other riding barns), but instead focus on connecting with the horses on the ground. Thorpe said sessions are uniquely tailored to meet clients’ goals and may be geared toward managing anxiety, depression, trauma recovery, or PTSD, or toward boosting confidence, communication skills, and more.
What the sessions look like depends on each individual.
“The really cool thing about this work is that working with horses, we’re working with sentient beings. No two sessions look alike,” Thorpe said. “The horses will respond to the energies happening in the moment.”
People may arrive at Equi Evolution for a variety of reasons, Thorpe said. “Really we find sort of this general feeling of being stuck, feeling lost. We focus on understanding and finding your authentic self.”
Thorpe said the program teaches the concepts of mindfulness, or of living in the moment, through working with horses. “And practicing strategies clients can apply to their everyday lives to help them find joy no matter what’s happening in their outside experience. Bringing that joy inside,” she said.
Mindfulness involves not dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future, and it turns out horses are pretty good at that, said Thorpe.
“There’s a whole bunch of things that make them really great for this work,” said Thorpe. Horses are always mindfully present, she said. They don’t live in the past and dwell on mistakes they may have made, and they don’t live in fear of the future.
“Any experience you have with them is genuine,” Thorpe said. “What they’re feeling is what they’re telling you. It may not be verbally, but it’s going to be in alignment.”
Interacting with the horses could range from simply sitting by them to learning everything about horsemanship, grooming, haltering, leading them and more.
Thorpe said some clients just want to be present in the environment. “There’s a calm here, a presence here – we don’t all have access to spaces like that.”
“One of the things my horses are really great at is something called holding space,” Thorpe said.
She said that since horses are herd animals, they always “have each other’s backs.” When people are introduced to the horses she said they become like a new part of the herd. “Horses feel that and they will hold space for people in need of it.”
Thorpe said someone who has been through a trauma or who is going through a rough time may be tired of sharing their story, or may be triggered by talking about something over and over.
She said they might put chairs out in the paddock so the person can simply sit and be present. “One, two, three horses will just come stand with that person, and offer their support.”
She said that while well-meaning friends or colleagues will often have opinions and input on a situation, horses “just have their back … without judgment.”
“Horses don’t care about your gender identity, what color your hair is, what you do for work, how much money you have,” she said.
Equi Evolution often shares on its Facebook page examples of how people have been affected during their sessions. One post tells the story of a client who was wondering why a particular horse was leery of his presence and would move away from him. “For weeks we touched on what this meant to the man and the similarities this interaction had to his experiences with other people in his life,” the post states.
“… the gentleman questioned the history of this particular horse, and then each of the other horses in the herd. We talked about the lives they lived before coming to our farm as well as some of the experiences they have had while with us. Experiences that have shaped their behaviors and shifted their own perspectives. Traumas that live within them, motivating their responses to each and every situation. As the tears flowed at hearing these stories a weight was simultaneously lifted. It was energetically palpable in both the man and the horses. An understanding had been reached and compassion replaced fear. Moments after this conversation, the energy of the herd shifted from cautious to playful. The horses began chasing each other around, rolling in the dirt, and kicking up their heels all around us. One by one they approached the man, some simply to check him out, others engaging in playful nudges. Even the horse who had been the most cautious of all walked over to acknowledge him. It’s amazing what can happen when we take a moment to recognize that everyone has a story and we’re really not so different from one another after all.”
While Equi Evolution is not a nonprofit, it has a sister organization called The Evolution Foundation geared toward helping its clients by setting up scholarships. Donations help to make the Equi Evolution programs available to those who would otherwise be unable to afford them. More information is available at www.equievolution.org
For those who have never been around horses, Thorpe said every new program starts with the very basics of interacting with horses. She said even just the act of getting comfortable around them can be a confidence boost. “Horses are huge. When our clients are able to overcome that fear, it’s really empowering,” she said.