Equine therapy program helping first responders cope with pandemic-related stress, anxiety

Equine therapy program helping first responders cope with pandemic-related stress, anxiety
Posted at 5:26 PM, Apr 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-08 19:14:35-04

BATH, Ohio — The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the mental health of many people as everyday struggles have been worsened by the virus.

Oftentimes, first responders bear the brunt of that weight.

The Hope Meadows Foundation, an equine-assisted psychotherapy and learning program, is helping them overcome those hurdles.

“With horses, you can't lie to them, they are able to read our emotions and our expressions. So of course, this mirrors what ends up going on with us,” Tiffany Ingersoll, the clinical director of the Hope Meadows Foundation, said. “And so because you can't lie to a horse, you're then able to work through your whole mind, body and spirit through the skill.”

“So it's not just a roleplay. It's an actual literal experience with an animal that's going to give you immediate feedback. And that immediate feedback then helps us to change and figure out solutions that work best for us.”

Ingersoll and her team put together programs for people to work through with horses, hopefully solving their problems and healing their souls in the process.

“There's lots of different possibilities that could happen. We've seen where horses refuse to go over or around something, and then we can talk about is there you know, what was that refusal about,” Ingersoll said. "Again, we’re talking about it through the horses. So people tend to open up pretty quickly about where they're stuck."

Ingersoll said during the pandemic they’ve seen an uptick in stress and anxiety so they’ve opened their doors to more people and reached out to first responders in particular.

David Frattare, the statewide director of the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, has attended sessions with his team at Hope Meadows location at Misty Acres Farm in Bath. He said their workload has increased dramatically during the pandemic.

“We knew that more people were going to be online. We knew that offenders were going to be online but also children who were attending school virtually,” Frattare said. “I don't think we realized how much of an impact it was going to have when the vast majority of the world decided to use the internet.”

Frattare said his team quarantined for a few weeks and tried working from home, but soon the task force jumped back in full force working like they did pre-pandemic.

“It was tiring at times, obviously trying to keep that pace up,” Frattare said. “But a very satisfying line of work in terms of law enforcement to be able to protect children and safeguard the internet.”

Frattare said they were able to retreat to Misty Acres Farm and regroup with the team from the Hope Meadows last year.

“Kind of gave us a day to recharge and relax and look deep inside ourselves and prepare for what we knew was going to be probably another six to eight to 12 months of constant work,” Frattare said. “And we've tried to keep that moving forward with what we learned here, with the great information we took away from the day. It's helped us remember to take care of ourselves and keep the idea of mental health and wellness at the forefront.”

“If I don't take care of myself. I'm not going to be any good for the folks I work with, or worse, the folks that we need to protect out there on the internet.”

The program has made such an impact on him, that Frattare has decided to invest even more of himself into Hope Meadows.

“Hope Meadows asked me to serve on the board and I certainly readily agreed so I get out here as much as I can,” Frattare said.

The Hope Meadows Foundation has two mental health-focused events coming up.

They’re hosting a Derby Day Drive-In at the Cleveland Metroparks Brookside Reservation on May 1. Starting at 5:30 p.m., attendees will be able to watch a live-stream of the Kentucky Derby and a screening of the film Secretariat afterwards. Food trucks will also be on site.

The foundation also is currently running an art contest.

More information about those events, scholarships, and sessions can be found on the Hope Meadows Foundation’s website.

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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