This is no surprise to equine therapist Jennifer McVoy, who founded Out Side In in January 2010.
McVoy, a social worker for Fruitport Community Schools, has been a therapist for the past 13 years. She believes equine-assisted psychotherapy is an effective tool for developing self-confidence, overcoming fear, improving social skills and developing problem-solving techniques.
Equine therapy is recognized as one of the top treatments for trauma, and considered a legitimate and effective form of mental health treatment by insurance companies. It is covered under most policies, McVoy said.
McVoy's mission is to help improve the lives of at-risk youth and their families. But she also works with individuals, couples and families at the Grand Haven Township farm.
“One of the positive aspects of working with horses is that they don't care what you look like or what you've been through,” she said. "They know you for your true, authentic self.”
Patients sometimes tend to get stuck talking about their past when they are in a regular office for traditional therapy, McVoy said. At Out Side In, she puts emphasis on the person’s strengths.
"We can talk about your past as little or as much as you want," McVoy said. "Let's see who you are as a person."
Stephanie and Amber Keller are sisters and go to Out Side In once a week for two hours.
Stephanie said she sees a regular therapist, but feels Out Side In produces a more positive effect for her.
"I'm hard on myself about things and struggle with anxiety," Stephanie said. "Coming here gives me something new to talk about and something to be proud of, like trotting Lily."
A 2,000-pound Percheron draft horse, Lily is known for her gentle demeanor, big heart and the ability to stand still as a model for painting.
Timmy, a miniature horse, is the boss of the whole farm and chases Lily. Timmy once escaped and was caught playing a harmless game of chase with the neighbor's dogs.
"It's not what it seems,” McVoy said. "The minis can bring about their own challenges. From the outside, we judge — but things aren't what they seem."
When treating kids, McVoy believes the group method is most effective.
"Several moms have called, telling me their daughters can't function in a group," she said. "However, once they get here, they let their guard down immediately."
McVoy said some of the kids who come to her already have a negative mindset — people may have told them they are violent or can't do anything right.
"Here, they get a chance to see themselves as successful and positive," McVoy explained. "It builds self-esteem."
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