Home Living Grace Children’s Home Equine Therapy Program Growing

Grace Children’s Home Equine Therapy Program Growing

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Grace Children’s Home Equine Therapy staff includes from Left to Right: Marty Blocker, Jane Jost, and Grace Director Mark Danielson

It’s been several years since Grace Children’s Home began its Equine Therapy Program, and it’s come a long way! In 2019, they purchased the 3-acre site of the former Range Wranglers 4-H Club Arena. It’s been transformed with the addition of a small barn, corral, and renovated arena where they can safely help special needs children through their equine therapy program.

In 2022, the program was greatly enhanced by adding an indoor arena just across the road from their outdoor facility. “This was made possible by the generous donation from Mark and Jane Jost,” said Grace Children’s Home Director Mark Danielson. The large arena also includes three stalls and a saddle shed. With this indoor arena, they can conduct classes all year long during inclement weather.

“We run between 300-500 sessions a year now through our equine therapy program. We have kids coming from as far as Omaha and all of the surrounding counties. We accept anyone who thinks they can benefit from the program, but we see many special needs children who may have suffered early childhood trauma, sensory processing disorders, or on the autism spectrum,” said Danielson. 

“Similar to people, horses have distinct personalities and temperaments. Horses are quick to sense environmental stimuli—both positive and negative—including those presented by people,” said Danielson. That’s one of the many reasons why horses can be used as agents of therapeutic change, according to Danielson. 

Grace’s program allows children to interact with their horses in a relaxed atmosphere that can promote self-awareness, mindfulness, and reflective learning, said Danielson. “We understand that these benefits will decrease disruptions in adoptive and foster homes, thereby benefitting both the child, family, and parents.” 

Grace utilizes equine-assisted learning and therapy that includes riding, leading, and grooming activities, along with interactions with their instructor. This past year, Grace hired Marty Blocker from Cody, Nebraska, to help run the program. He is a retired ranch manager and said he loves being in Henderson, at Grace, where he can blend his love of horses and kids. 

One of their activities is called Safe Place to promote positive emotions through a perceived sense of safety. “Most of the children we serve have experienced significant trauma that interferes with their ability to form healthy attachments with caregiving adults,” said Danielson. 

During this activity, the instructor will explain the safety equipment, training, and character of the horse. After the child is led through some simple patterns to follow with the horse, eventually, he/she will perceive that they are safe and free to build healthy attachments. 

Grace Children’s Home owns four horses for the program and utilizes 5 to 6 horses owned by Mark and Jane Jost. Each kid who participates in the program is outfitted with a helmet and boots for safety.

According to Danielson, horses are very sensitive to emotions and can be a “mirror to their soul” during therapy sessions. “The kids are learning to connect with their horse. The idea is to take that same connection the kids build with the horse and transfer it to their human relationships. Strengthening their emotional self-regulation is often a result of equine therapy.”

Grace has launched a program called Navigating Trauma, which uses the Oregon Trail journey as a metaphor for the millions of children who are navigating through trauma and searching for a better life. They are similar to those on the winding journey towards a new frontier on the Oregon Trail. Visit their website, Navigating Trauma, to learn more about this new initiative.