Top Story, Dec. 15, 2014
Horse farms use equine therapy to aid patients
By RICHARD SKELLY
MONROE TOWNSHIP, Middlesex County — Like petting a dog or cat, brushing a horse can lower blood pressure, calm the breathing and bring a smile to the face of the person petting the horse, if not the horse as well.
Two small farms in central New Jersey utilize the therapeutic power of horses to help special needs children and adults and people recovering from drug addiction.
Sharon Farmer has been running Superior Horse Farm on Old Forge Road in Monroe Township since 1980.
It was previously known as Horse Land until 1991.
Farmer is assisted at Superior Horse Farm, founded by her late husband, by her daughter, Megan and son, Shamus, as well as a few stable workers.
Farmer employs Elaina Galindo, a certified horse therapist, a few days each week to work with autistic children at her farm, and previous to Galindo coming aboard, she opened her farm to special needs children and adults and senior citizens groups.
Galindo began working at the farm when she was 14 and recently received her certification as a horse therapist.
“I have always done recreational therapy for special needs people,” Farmer said. “If somebody comes in and explains the situation, I will work with that parent and their children.”
Galindo, of East Brunswick, is a PATH International certified instructor, and talked about progress she’s made with at least two autistic kids she’s been working with for the last year or so.
“The kids are starting to talk more and pay more attention and be more focused,” Galindo said. “And we work with them in the rings, but my other student is able to go out on the trails into the woods for riding.”
In general, Farmer stressed, whether they have special needs or not, “it’s beneficial for people to feel and experience being next to a horse or riding a horse.”
Farmer works with five horses on site at Superior Horse Farm and is working another three horses into the process of becoming therapy horses.
Lynn Regan in nearby Farmingdale in Monmouth County works with recovering heroin addicts at her Regan’s Hollow Farm.
In recent years, Regan and her crew have been receiving calls from all over the country from people battling a growing supply of cheap heroin.
Regan runs the CFC Loud ‘n’ Clear Program with her son, Daniel, 24, a former addict in recovery and her husband Marc, who works full-time as a medical equipment salesman.
CFC stands for “Coming Full Circle,” she points out.
She co-founded the CFC Loud ‘n’ Clear Foundation with Daniel after he came out of rehab and both realized the therapeutic value of caring for horses to help former addicts “get out of their own head” for a time, Lynn said. It received non-profit status in 2013.
“We fill in the gaps in recovery so when someone goes to a 30-day program and comes out and then don’t know what to do with themselves, we fill in the gaps,” Lynn said. “We know the relapse rate is 60 to 80 percent, so we fill in the gaps with equine-assisted psychotherapy.”
Recovering addicts do not stay on site at Regan’s Hollow Farm, but they are required to check in, three, four and five times each week to handle horse-related chores and attend meetings.
“We also have programs like yoga, meditation, time management workshops, chakra ball meditation, parent groups and sober social activities. Equine therapy is one of those activities that we offer and it promotes emotional growth and personal development,” Lynn said.
“We make it part of a time management program: The kids have an addiction; procrastination is one of the biggest enemies that we fight on a daily basis, these kids can’t get past procrastination and self-motivating.
“So we’ve found that making them responsible for the well-being of an animal seems to work better than making them responsible for their own well-being,” Regan said, noting the kids in recovery, sometimes in their early teens, will do grooming and feeding for the horses a few days each week.
“One day a week we’ll do a workshop where they’ll be hands on in using the horses, walking the horses and interacting with the horses on the ground. They learn that horses are very non-judgmental and the boundaries are super clear when it comes to a horse,” she said.
CFC Loud ‘n’ Clear also utilizes Diane Bleimann, a licensed drug and alcohol counselor and certified social worker, who conducts meetings six days a week at the farm. Clients must participate in meetings two or three mornings each week.
“What it does for these kids is it helps them ‘get out of their own head’ and find their heart, especially the ones who know the answers to everything: The kids that are really intelligent, they know everything until you hook them up to a two thousand pound animal, and suddenly, they’re listening.”
The CFC Loud ‘n’ Clear Program has been recognized by Howell Township and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office as a model program for recovering heroin addicts and Lynn Regan makes use of three special horses for the program, which are also used for regular riding lessons on weekends.
The program lasts as long as the kids need to stay, Regan said.
“We give them a crack of light and empower the kids with some type of passion. We encourage anybody coming out of treatment to remain in our program for at least the first year of recovery,” she added.