Horses helping people rebound from mental health challenges

Nonprofits working to increase access to care
Posted at 4:32 PM, Jun 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-05 00:41:34-04

ELBERT, COLO.  — An increasing number of people are reaching out for help with their mental health for the very first time. Mental health professionals say it's an important step in rebounding from the anxiety and depression gripping our communities right now. Mental health therapy can come in many different forms and could even take you to a horse ranch.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, there's a surging mental health crisis in our communities. Just a short drive from Colorado Springs, you'll find the Stable Strides horse ranch where horses and mental health pros are ready to help.

"It's about being outside. It's about being in an environment that doesn't feel sterile, doesn't feel like I'm getting therapy. It feels like I'm making a connection with the horse," said Stable Strides Executive Director Shannon Mitchell.

Working with more than 150 clients of all ages, many of them without any prior horse experience, leaders at Stable Strides say an individual mental health session is a team effort. It includes the client, a trained horse, a licensed mental health therapist, and a horse expert for safety.

"It's picking up steam now and people are starting to realize this is legitimate and it's not just playing with horses," said Mitchell.

Brian Winchel is an Army combat veteran who calls southern Colorado home.

"Coming from a military background, for years there was a stigma for military personnel that you were weak if you wanted to get help and you know it's just the opposite," said Winchel.

Working with his friend "Thumper," together man and horse walk through the psychological hurts, hangups, and battles.

"They have me basically set up the course to represent things that have happened to me like obstacles that I've overcome and things like that so it's kind of revisiting that but in a good way," said Winchel.

With mental health experts helping them through it, the bond forged on this ranch between two unlikely friends is life changing.

"I say it's just giving me a much better outlook on life and not only what I've been through in the past, but as I look towards the future," said Winchel.

Horses are heavily vetted and trained for six to eight weeks to make sure they are ready to assist with therapy. Military veterans working to overcome anxiety and trauma have been utilizing this type of mental health therapy for years.

At Stable Strides the goal is to get our neighbors this type of help before it's too late.

"Anxiety, depression, a trauma background, this work really works well for those individuals. Also I mean one of our main goals is to help reduce suicide rates in our community both in our youth and our military are really are big focuses," said Mitchell.

Leaders of this non-profit say their focus right now is to raise awareness and to increase the access to horse therapy for people across southern Colorado.

"When one in four people before this coronavirus hit were struggling with mental illness I mean I don't have a statistics on it, but I think that will be at least doubled. That 50% of us or more are going to be struggling and we need to be able to address that," said Mitchell.

In the days and months ahead leaders here anticipate adding to their client base. They will be in need of resources and volunteers to help meet those needs.

Here are some ways to connect, donate, and volunteer with Stable Strides:

For a full list of horse therapy organizations in Colorado: Click Here