Nevada Equine Assisted Therapy One Trauma Momma’s Journey

My husband and I were foster parents for eight amazing kiddos before we ultimately adopted two beautiful boys.  We met our sons at Austin’s House in June of 2017.  Our first visit was only an hour long and we left on cloud 9… the oldest called my husband “daddy” within 11 mins of meeting and pointed to every airplane that flew overhead … daddy’s a pilot so smitten is not a strong enough word.  I was “daddy’s friend” for the next three months, but who’s counting.  The next day, we spent another couple hours with our sons … it felt good.  I visited the next couple days without my husband … that good quiet feeling became a distant memory as our son’s big behaviors came flooding out.  Both kiddos would rock against walls and scream every 15 mins it seemed.  I was clearly sinking with every effort getting me nowhere.  I’m pretty sure I blacked out with staff coming to my rescue more than once.  I remember crying the whole way home wondering if I would be strong enough for these kiddos.  Even after helping eight other kiddos, this challenge was the beginning of my grey hair.  I finally put my big pants on and began finding the help we needed.

Those first few months were surreal.  Our oldest didn’t want to be touched and his little body was forever on the move.  He rocked and rocked and rocked… we had special pillows surrounding his bed, he would rock for hours all day and all night until his little boney back was bruised and bleeding.  Rocking was also his way of regulating himself.  The drama of a broken granola bar or anything not according to his “plan” was too much to bear.  Around this time NEIS scored his social-emotional skills equivalent to a 9 month old … he was 2.5.  All daily activities required “co-regulating”.  Mealtime was epic… sometimes the transition to the table would take over 45 mins.  Toys were limited due to the anxiety they brought, and the most coveted toys would end up in the diaper.  Over the course of a few weeks, our oldest son had stopped rocking at night and naps.  He was finally able to rest his body and sleep; however, rocking was still his “go-to” for regulating during the day.  Our little man would bite his arm until he bled, have meltdowns lasting 5 hours until he literally passed out with us just trying to keep him alive.  Other times, he would completely dissociate, and we learned about fecal smearing.  The trauma of washing fecal material out of the hair of a 25 lb child who was also terrified of water… soul crushing.

I started looking for therapy.  Small town rural Nevada was not in my favor, but after a few epic failures, we found a great facility with Project Safe & Growing in Reno.  Our family was introduced to conscious discipline methods and early childhood trauma and my standard late-night cry-fest was replaced with YouTube videos, articles, and books that began to make sense of our lives.  We continued growing with this therapeutic setting for almost a year.  We added occupational therapy to our list of resources and started to make solid measurable gains.  Getting dressed didn’t take up to 2 hours of screaming; getting strapped into a car seat didn’t take another hour.  I bought at least 20 more parenting books… crash course in self-help trauma momma.  It definitely wasn’t pretty, but we were starting to get by…  Meltdowns weren’t the majority of the day… we had far fewer drywall holes to spackle… and I wasn’t in a constant state of panic…

Our therapist recommended looking into equine therapy.  I have had a death fear of horses since my early childhood… I remember my hands sweating at the simple suggestion.  I put aside my fears and decided I would do anything to help my son.  I saw Nevada Equine Assisted Therapy (NEAT) mentioned on a foster/adopt Facebook page, and we scheduled a visit.  At that time, our oldest had just turned four and he did so well around the horses that he was accepted into the program.  He was so small and the horses so big in comparison; sitting on the horse, his feet didn’t even extend past the saddle pad.  He was a whopping 35 lbs! 

I began to learn enormous amounts about horses and trauma, simply fascinating.  Two months after first sitting on a horse, Ms. Ruby to be exact, our son found the safety and confidence to begin talking about his tummy mom; he had never spoken about her before.  I remember walking behind him on a trail ride crying my eyes out and trying my best to hold it together.  He started using his big voice with his brother and our pets at home. This created a whole new household dynamic where little brother wasn’t the boss anymore and healthy boundaries were being established.  Before our oldest was enrolled in the NEAT program, our household dynamic was reversed … our oldest required approval from our youngest for everything… he would stay in bed until little brother told him he was “allowed” to get out, he wouldn’t “eat” unless little brother told him what to eat and how.  Through horses, our oldest started feeling more confident to make his own choices and use his big voice.  The fallout from this was epic for our youngest but it needed to happen. 

Our son spent over 2.5 years growing in NEAT.  He is now 7 and still asks if he can return to his horses.  I remember so many days I had to walk away as Ms. Bambi helped convince little man to come out of his car seat; days so hard I could barely participate as a simple cheerleader on the sideline.  Some days were so challenging we couldn’t make it to the horse, only view them from the clubhouse as we played a game.  Then, there were the days my smile was so big, my face would ache all night… a hurdle overcome… a goal actually achieved.  This little man, who hated dirt, who hated smells, who hated hair on his clothes and face, who couldn’t deal with socks and shoes, who had massive obsessive behaviors, who had anxiety beyond imagination … this little man became a horseman right in front of my eyes.  He conquered something I couldn’t as a grown woman.  No matter what kind of day it was, he always left better.  When he began the program at four years old, this little boy never slept!  He would maybe get an hour or two at a time… after a horse ride, he would sleep for hours and hours … his body would finally relax as well as mine.  Even years later, we would leave the stables and he would remain calm!  It was his only place of peace. 

NEAT never gave our family “easy” … it was never “easy.”  Our little man was kicked out of every sport we tried… soccer, swim, gymnastics, martial arts… he managed to stay in football simply because his parents became the coaches!  He was kicked out of every school in our small town as well, ultimately leading us to homeschool for a long period of time until we were accepted into a trauma informed charter school.  However, NEAT and horses have shown our little man how to find his calm and his own voice … so much so that school, while challenging, is no longer impossible.  He knows he can do hard things!

Due to our experience and complete family growth with NEAT, this terrified of horses momma began riding lessons, slowly identifying and putting her own demons to rest along the way.  We found a riding program for our youngest son and he began thriving … my husband and I stood in absolute shock as one day our oldest was leading our youngest around as he sat on a horse … together… our sons did something together for the first time!  The magnitude was not overlooked.  For the first time, they respected each other, listened to each other, all because the right horse was put in the right place… Daddy signed up for lessons the same day!  It took years and I would never have believed it, but this family has become horse people to the core.  We can no longer wake without the “smell” of horse before the daily grind.  We now have two horses that fit our family as perfectly as our sons.  I would never recommend bringing horses home to anyone… However, I will whole-heartedly recommend the NEAT program to anyone or any family seeking a little light when feeling there’s only dark.  NEAT provides confidence, love, and trust when there seems to be none.  They provide a place free of judgement to begin growth where you are, not where you should be.  As a mom, it was a rare safe haven that gave me hope… hope to see my son succeed when doubt was so regular… and my son most certainly continues to succeed.  I truly believe this program has played a role in saving my son’s life and the gratitude I feel is overwhelming.

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So Wonderful to Hear About Success

We know that the work we do can make a difference, but it is so great to hear from someone who wants to share just how much the program has helped! We worked with this young man 10 years ago.

His Grandmother just got in touch with us to let us know how well he is doing. She states, “I truly believe DC’s work with Baxter really helped him.” He is now 17 years old, has a 3.5 GPA at the high school he attends and participates in 3 different sports (football, basketball and track). He has said that he would like to be a firefighter and plans to attend TMCC/Fire Academy in So Lake Tahoe after high school.

She closed by saying, “Thank you for having the best horse therapy ranch that DC could have ever asked for.”

We are grateful that we were able to make a difference in this young man’s life…

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We Appreciate Your Support

It means so much to us to hear from our clients and their families….

The author Paul Coelho has said “I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you”. Our family feels this way about everything that led us to N.E.A.T. (Nevada Equine Assisted Therapy) almost three years ago. Now, all three of us cannot imagine our lives without NEAT.

We are grateful for the help that N.E.A.T. has given our grandson Michael, who is our son, as he struggled with incurable epilepsy, alcohol related neurological problems, attention deficit disorder, a chromosome microdeletion, developmental disabilities and other challenges. Equine therapy calmed the rage that he felt about the things that he had lived through and their impact on him. The calm that he found there enabled him to form relationships of trust with horses and people. Michael appreciates his Qualified Mental Health Associate (QMHA) and the work that he does with her impacts his daily life throughout the week. He has gained confidence there and has always felt safe, respected and challenged to be all that he could be. To see a thousand-pound animal who could seem so large and intimidating come to trust you and follow your direction is tremendously empowering. The horses at NEAT are precious unique creatures with amazing personalities and the ability to transform a family’s life.

Debby, Lloyd and Michael.

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Our Teens Need Our Help

The statistics are frightening. ‘Suicide rates for 15- to 19-year-olds and those between 20 and 24 are at their highest level since 2000, a new study reports.’ This comes from a US New & World Report article that rates increased 10% from 2014 to 2017.

In fact, teen suicide rates are higher than any other age group. According to a Washington Post article from October of 2019, ‘ Suicide has become the second-most common cause of death among teenagers and young adults, overtaking homicides and outpaced only by accidents.’

We struggle to figure out what is happening. The sharp increase in teen suicides has especially frustrated and puzzled researchers, who have struggled to explain its causes. Some have attributed it to changing social structures, lack of community and the rise of social media and smartphones. Others have pointed to bullying and less sleep. But, “The truth is anyone who says they definitively know what is causing it doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” said Ursula Whiteside, a researcher with the University of Washington. “It’s a complex problem with no easy answers so far.”

What we do know is that we must do something to change this! Early intervention and finding appropriate and impactful therapy can be vital. There is growing evidence that Equine Assisted Therapy can be a powerful intervention and part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Here is another US News & World Report article addressing how work with horses can help teens who are struggling. Horses have been found to help teens struggle with depression.

A teen who is struggling may be resistant to ‘treatment’. Even if they can figure them out, teens are often uncomfortable talking about their feelings, so an intervention that does not feel confrontational can be extremely helpful. Very Well Minded, offers their thoughts on the place Equine Assisted Therapy has in the therapeutic process and, according to this Psychology Today article, Equine therapy alleviates multiple emotional and behavioral struggles.

Nevada Equine Assisted Therapy (N.E.A.T.) is contracted with Fee For Service Medicaid to provide Psycho Social Rehabilitation (PSR). For our private pay and scholarship (our scholarships are made possible by a partnership between N.E.A.T. and the For Kids Foundation) clients we provide social, emotional and behavioral growth and learning. Our sessions are one-on-one, with the client, a Qualified Mental Health Associate (QMHA) and the horse the client chooses to work with. For more information or to schedule a visit to the ranch, please email us at or call 775-750-9823.

Posted in Addiction, Anxiety Disorders, Bipolar, Depression, Eating Disorders, Grief, Mental Health, PTSD, Teens, Trauma | 1 Comment

How does Equine Therapy Work?

I have not posted a blog in so long! We were very involved in making our First Annual Really N.E.A.T. Benefit Concert a success, and I really let sharing information with you all slide! My apologies. Today I want to take a look at one of the most asked questions we face – How does Equine Therapy Work?’

There is so much new information and so many wonderful programs all over the country who are doing incredible work in the field of equine therapy. From more traditional ‘therapeutic riding’ programs to programs like ours, where the focus is on social, emotional and behavioral health interventions, it can be confusing to people. ‘Isn’t it just horseback riding?’ No, it really isn’t.

In a traditional therapeutic riding program, the team may be focusing on increasing physical abilities – balance, flexibility, mobility, or on things, like increasing and improving speech – the movement of the horse actually stimulates speech centers in the brain! Our program focuses on a different set of issues and challenges. From ADHD to depression, anxiety, healing from trauma as well as a myriad of other social, emotional and behavioral health issues, work with horses can be so powerful. As Jane Davis points out in her Hudson Valley article, “Everything you learn with a horse can be taken into your relationships.”

There are so many aspects of the work that can make a difference, but we always focus on our clients specific needs and goal. ADHD – we focus on helping the client learn to stay on task and decreasing impulsive behaviors. Since horses are prey animals unexpected and loud situations can worry them.

When we are working with a client who is healing from trauma, we may focus on building trust, setting safe personal boundaries, increasing confidence and decreasing anxiety/PTSD.

We work one on one with each client on their specific issues. We work with kids as young as four, teens adults and seniors. We are a Fee For Service Medicaid Provider for Psycho Social Rehabilitation (PSR), a Behavioral Health intervention, accept private pay clients and, through a partnership with the For Kids Foundation, offer a scholarship program. If you or someone you know are struggling give us a call or send us an email. We will be happy to schedule a time for you to visit the ranch. We will show you around, introduce our wonderful herd, learn more about what you are dealing with and share how we may be able to help. We are here for you.

Posted in Addiction, ADHD, Anxiety Disorders, Asperger's, Autism, Bipolar, Children's issues, Depression, Eating Disorders, FAS, Grief, Mental Health, Mental Illness, OCD, ODD, Other challenges, Other programs, PTSD, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Schizophrenia, Seniors Program, Sensory processing issues, Team Building, Teens, Trauma | Leave a comment

Long Term Impact of Common ADHD Medications

I have not posted anything in a long time, but I feel it is important to share some information with you. This morning in our local paper (RGJ), author John Rosemond has an article talking about the risks posed by some of the more common ADHD medications. The article is troubling and certainly could cause parents/caregivers concern. However, before I was comfortable posting the article, I wanted to take a look at the study he quotes from. So, I did some digging and decided to share the Medscape Interview with the study’s principal investigator with you rather than the article, as I feel this presents the information in a more thoughtful manner, stating that the study results indicate that more research needs to be done.

The truth is that we all need to be well informed when medications are used. This information is absolutely something to be aware of and consider when making choices for your child/a child in your care. Informed decisions about the best interventions/treatment for your child/a child in your care are what it is all about!

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Equine Therapy Reaches Across Generations

The work we do with horses offers so many benefits. Whether it is with children, teens, adults or seniors, horse can make a difference. In this Horse & Rider article, some of the benefits for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s, as well as for their caregivers is explored.

We know that there are both physical and emotional benefits to working with horses. Getting up, getting out and moving around, whether leading, grooming or riding, can be great exercise! A client may have fond memories of a time when they were younger and had horses in their lives. Being able to build a bond with a horse while working in a non-judgemental, supportive environment is enriching and, having something new to look forward to and talk about can be exciting.

Some seniors may still have the physical ability to ride. We can do that! They will lead, groom, help with tack-up and ride. This may be a simple walk around the arena, but as always, the work we do is based on the client’s needs and abilities.

The good news is, we offer options! If someone is no longer physically able to ride, they can learn to drive! From a wheelchair or walker, a client can get to know our miniature horse, Dillon. Dillon knows his stuff so, as long as a client is able to maneuver themselves into the cart, the world of driving is open to them! This work begins in the arena, but we have a lovely trail around the property that makes this a truly memorable experience.

We would be happy to share more with you about how we can enrich the life of a senior, both physically and emotional. Call or email and we can schedule a visit to the ranch.

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New Treatments Offer Hope

We love seeing that there are new options for people who are struggling with social, emotional, behavioral and mental health issues.

In this moving article in the North Jersey Record, Cindy Schweich Handler shares some insights into what it is like for those living with depression and some of the research into new options for people with this disease.

It is sad that there is still so much stigma attached to mental health issues. We need to do better so that people can find a path to a happier, healthier and more productive life.

There is growing support for the use of Equine Assisted Therapy in the treatment of many issues, including depression. This article,posted on VeryWellMind looks at many aspects of Equine Therapy.

The truth is, we see it. We experience it day in and day out in our work with horses and clients dealing with a multitude of issues. From an anxious 4-yr old to a teen who is resistant to everything, work with horses can help. We work with children as young as 4, teens adults and even seniors.

We are here for you. We would love to show you around the ranch, introduce our herd, learn more about what you are dealing with and share with you how we might be able to help. Call or email to schedule a visit.

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The Growing Support for Equine Assisted Therapy

Of course we see it in the work we do. We see that children, teens and even adults can experience learning, growth and change through work with horses. They become less impulsive. They become less self-conscious. They become less anxious. They become more confident. They become more focused. They become more empathetic. They become more empowered and successful in all areas of their lives.

But it is great to see that there is ‘growing evidence,’ based on studies that supports our experiences. In this current article in Psychology Today, the findings suggest “Equine therapy alleviates multiple emotional and behavioral struggles”.

The article lists many of the issues that can be addressed through work with horses, including (but not limited to): Anxiety, PTSD, Eating Disorders and Depression and talks about why Equine Assisted Therapy can be particularly powerful.

The bottom line is, there is more and more evidence supporting the therapeutic benefits of Equine Assisted Therapy in the treatment of many social, emotional, behavioral and mental health issues.

At Nevada Equine Assisted Therapy we work with each client’s team (teachers, therapists, parents/caregivers) to create a unique program focused on the client’s specific issues. Leading a horse can improve focus, build confidence and decrease anxiety. Learning about horse and herd behavior and increase empathy, decrease impulsivity . Since horses are prey animals sudden moves/loud noises can worry a horse. Grooming can be soothing for those dealing with depression or anxiety.

If you, or someone you know, are struggling with social, emotional, behavioral or mental health issues, we are here to help. Call us at 775-750-9823 or email us at We will answer any questions you may have and if you would like, schedule a time for you to visit the ranch. We will show you around, introduce our herd, learn more about what you are dealing with and share how work with horses may be able to help.

Posted in Addiction, ADHD, Anxiety Disorders, Asperger's, Autism, Bipolar, Children's issues, Depression, Eating Disorders, FAS, Grief, Mental Health, OCD, ODD, Other challenges, PTSD, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Schizophrenia, Seniors Program, Sensory processing issues, Teens, Trauma | 1 Comment

Consider the Positives of ADHD

Most of the time we are dealing with the negative impact of ADHD. Lack of focus, impulsive behaviors and a myriad of social, emotional and behavioral issues accompany an ADHD diagnosis. This neurological disorder is challenging for the child/teen/adult with the issue, but also for all those who care for and interact with them.

However, this wonderful article in Scientific America takes a look at the positive aspects of the ADHD experience, sharing information on creative cognition. The ADHD mind may open many doors to creative problem solving and in being able to imagine new and different possibilities.

Of course we have to help get our kids focused and on task so that they can make it through the day and have personal and academic success. But it is also imperative that we help them, and those that interact with them, to see that the way they think is not only different, but very special.

In our work with horses we address the impulsivity and lack of focus. Clients have to lead, groom and help with tacking up their horse before they are able to play with them or ride. They get redirects and are advised that the sooner they complete these ‘tasks’ the more time they will have to just enjoy being with their horse.

But, we also leave lots of room for creative problem solving and encourage our clients to find new/different ways of doing things if they are having a problem. “Hmmm, you want to turn right, but Ruby wants to turn left. How do you think you can get her to go where you want her to? Is there another way to get there?”

Truly, the most important gift we can give our children is the ability to see that we all have challenges that we need to address, BUT we also all have incredible talents! The ADHD mind is especially suited for creative problem solving and turning ‘concepts’ into reality.

Le’s help our kids see themselves as capable and of immense value. This is how we help them reach their full potential!

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