At Marley’s Mission, horses are metaphors
Last Modified: February 18. 2013 2:03PM
The biggest misconception people have about Marley’s Mission, according to founder April Loposky, is that it’s simply a horse-riding camp for children.
While the camp uses horses in aiding childhood victims of physical and emotional trauma, children at the Lackawanna County-based charity do not ride horses. Instead, the animals are used as living metaphors to help them process the trauma they have suffered and the challenges ahead.
A child in a therapy session works with a therapist and a horse trainer, for safety, in an arena with several horses. “Obviously, it’s non-clinical,” Loposky said. “It’s very different from typical talk therapy.”
In a typical scenario, the therapist will set up obstacles in the arena to represent challenges the child must face. For instance, one might be going to court to be questioned about abuse, another might be facing that questioning, a third might be facing his or her abuser again during a trial. “They’re all terrifying in their own right,” Loposky said.
Horses can hear a human heartbeat from 3 feet away and will not cross the obstacle if it senses the child growing nervous or apprehensive. The therapist can then talk to the child about what is making the horse hesitate.
“The child can then transfer (his or her) emotions on that horse and then talk about it,” Loposky said. “That makes it easier for them.”
The charity also does not tell the children the horses’ names. Instead, they allow the children to name the horses themselves, allowing them to project thoughts and emotions onto the horses and providing another metaphor for them to talk about those feelings.
A particularly aggressive horse, for example, could represent an abuser or an aggressive person in the child’s life, while a more gentle horse might represent a comforting person or space.
Loposky said the therapy has shown obvious benefits in helping children improve their self confidence, verbal ability and school attendance.
“I think the biggest thing that we see,” said Loposky, “is the children have hope that they’re going to get better, that this is not defining them, that they get to define themselves. And that’s what we work on with them.”