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New horse therapy program helps people suffering from anxiety, especially due to COVID-19

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Posted at 7:00 AM, Sep 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-08 17:32:01-04

CLEARWATER, Fla.  — Inspire Equine Therapy Program in Clearwater is helping people with mental health issues during the pandemic, especially as an alternative to traditional talk therapy

Since this pandemic began, anxiety for so many has spiked.

According to the U.S. Census Survey, those with moderate to severe anxiety rose from 7% in 2019 to 37% in 2021. Those with moderate to severe depression increased from 7% to 32%.

"Horses live in the moment, so they live in the here and now. They don't care what happened 10 minutes ago, or what's going to happen 10 minutes later," said Melissa Yarbrough, who's a board-certified behavior analyst and Executive Director of the Inspire Equine Therapy Program in Clearwater.

She said after a year and a half of this pandemic, many have unprecedented anxiety and her well-trained therapy horses can help.

"We don't live in the moment. We're missing that. And to be able to bring ourselves into that moment with the horses and working with them together and focusing on just what's happening right now helps relieve and decrease that anxiety," she said.

Through their free horse therapy programs, Yarbrough assists many people with disabilities along with veterans and first responders struggling with PTSD.

But COVID-19 has brought on new stressors. Horses can feel those stressors through body language and can help people calm down.

"I can work with the client, the participant, to help relieve that with either breathing exercises or some grounding techniques. And the client can actually see the horse deescalate as they deescalate," she explained.

Sometimes Yarbrough can help a person de-stress just by listening to the horse's slow and rhythmic breath.

"Getting her to focus in the moment of looking at the horses breathing and trying to match the breathing and putting her head on the horse and the warmth, just as a soothing and calming activity, just to get her more focused on what was going on at that time. And to bring that heart rate down and the blood pressure and, and the breathing down," she said.

And because horses don't judge, you can also let your guard down and get close to these beautiful animals.

"Especially with our big guy who's you know, six feet at the shoulder, he can be quite intimidating. So if you have a boundary issue, working with him and getting more comfortable with him, helps with their everyday life," Yarbrough explained.

If you don't think a horse can lift your spirits, think again.

"Oh God! It makes people feel a whole lot better. When you're in a bad mood, just go hug a horse. Makes your life so much better!" Yarbrough said enthusiastically.

The Inspire Equine Therapy Program is holding its fifth Annual Boot Scootin' Barn Dance fund-raising benefit on Friday, November 19 at 6:30 p.m.

For more information on the fundraiser, click here.

For more information on The Inspire Equine Therapy Program, click here.