- Torrie Norris
For some armed service members, the transition back into civilian life can be difficult. In 2007, Ph.D. in psychology Laurie Sakaeda created a program called A Helping Hoof to help ease that process. Based in Grantsville, the program uses horses as therapy animals and primarily helped veterans with anxiety and depression issues. It's now expanded to assist people of all backgrounds.
What inspired you to create the program?
Knowing there would be a lot of men and women returning from the Middle East with PTSD and other service/combat related issues. The folks that come to work with the horses have different backgrounds, but when they work with the horses there's a commonality, and it is very satisfying to see them develop skills or overcome obstacles. I have worked with many people who were afraid of horses for different reasons, but after a few weeks in the program, their confidence has grown and they almost forget they were afraid.
Can you explain Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy?
EFP varies from facility to facility. The work I do includes the horse in different processes for the client. Sometimes we do structured exercises with the horses that may involve the use of props and a lot of metaphors. Other times, I kind of see where the client is and what they need. These are more horsemanship exercises, but often the client will be acting out their behavior patterns—and then we can work directly with those. Then other times, the person may actually ride the horse either bareback or with a saddle.
What are the benefits of EFP?
In the time I've been involved in EFP, I've seen people gain confidence and the ability to trust, improve their communication, work on self-respect and increase their self-esteem. The horses are generally pretty accepting, so the client enjoys being in a non-judgmental relationship. The acceptance of the horse can also challenge the client's belief that no one likes them or they are unworthy. A lot of the work is helping people get out of their comfort zone in a way they can tolerate but still know they accomplished something.
How is it funded?
The program is funded through fee-for-service individual payments from the VA. Since I donate many services to the veterans, I engage in fundraising activities—such as Western shows, competitive trail rides and movies. I [also] work with the James P. Huber Foundation which is a nonprofit corporation. If someone wants to donate funds and have it be tax deductible, they can donate through the foundation with a note that it is for A Helping Hoof, and I will get it.