Horses Helping The Helpers

Simply being in the presence of horses can be calming
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MINT HILL, NC – It should be no surprise to anyone that the COVID pandemic strained our healthcare and  emergency response workers to unprecedented levels.  Mending Strides Ranch is here to help with its Healing Strides program for healthcare workers and first responders.

Mending Strides Ranch's horses
Mending Strides Ranch’s horses

Throughout the pandemic and beyond, healthcare and emergency workers have been dealing with the unimaginable: the ongoing threat to their safety and the safety of their loved ones, higher mortality rates of patients, difficult and uncomfortable infection control measures, mask and vaccine debates, resignation and loss of friends in the workplace, high pressure environments, and staff shortages.  



It is no wonder that many are stressed, burned out, and dealing with negative emotions they feel from helping others at work.  This “compassion fatigue” consists of two parts – burnout and secondary trauma – and it affects one’s desire and  ability to care for others.

Sadly, it is often very difficult for the helpers to seek help for themselves.  There is an unspoken stigma that they should be strong enough to handle everything. Some  might worry that it would affect their job if someone found out or that they would lose the respect of their peers. 

That is why Mending Strides Ranch in Mint Hill is offering a workshop series called “Healing  Strides.” This program is offered through the generosity of a community grant from Novant  Health Mint Hill Medical Center and focuses on helping participants learn self care principles,  communication and boundary setting skills related to self care and managing time, connecting  to themselves and others, and acknowledging grief. Healing Strides sessions are co-facilitated by a licensed mental health provider and equine specialist and will combine psycho-education and  activities with the horses to help participants find their best solutions. 

Working with a horse is a great way to practice assertiveness and boundary setting
Working with a horse is a great way to practice assertiveness and boundary setting

You might wonder how a horse could help someone experiencing stress or burnout. It begins  with the horse’s heart and brain. Horses’ brains are not as highly developed as ours.  They are not equipped to worry about the past or future; they simply live mindfully in the present, taking care of the needs of the moment. Horses’ hearts are about five times larger than ours, and their  heartbeat and respiration is slower than ours.  When we are in their presence, our bodies seek to align with theirs, producing a calm feeling. Activities such as mindful grooming  can be utilized to get grounded and be fully present. 

Often, people become overwhelmed  because of their inability to say “no,” which leads to overcommitment. Working with a horse is  a great way to practice assertiveness and setting boundaries. These skills can be translated to everyday life to help participants effectively communicate their needs and assertively set  boundaries regarding time management and self care practices. 

Healing Strides will be held on November 12 and December 12 from 10:00 am – 12:30 pm.  If you or someone you know in the health or emergency response fields is experiencing signs  of physical and mental exhaustion, a sense of dread about work, frequent feelings of cynicism,  anger or irritability let them know about this opportunity.  Learn more about Healing Strides and all the programs available at Mending Strides mendingstridesranch.com.

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Mary Beth Foster
Mary Beth Foster works part time as an essay specialist at Charlotte Latin School and full time as a mom to her five-year-old daughter Hannah and her two-year-old son Henry. Prior to having children, she worked as a high school English teacher for nine years. Most recently, she chaired the English department at Queen's Grant High School. She and her husband have lived in Mint Hill with their children and their cats since 2011. Email: marybeth@minthilltimes.com