Las Vegas program using horses to aid human development needs, PTSD

Bullying, social anxiety and trauma: These are among the myriad problems that can plague the human mind. When human interaction seems like too much to bear, horses inside a northwest facility may be able to help.

Goals4Success is an Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association-accredited program that focuses on helping anyone — young or old — to address mental health and human development needs.

“It’s hard to explain just how amazing horses are for this type of therapy,” said Patricia Elias, founder and director of the organization. “Horses know when people are happy or sad. They’re so calming, relaxing and loving. They give back unconditionally.”

Elias works as a mental health specialist certified in equine therapy and is a marriage and family therapist intern. After she discovered the calming effects that her horses had on a client, she opened Goals4Success in May 2010.

Clients focus on doing groundwork with the horses, rather than riding them. They are placed with a mental health and equine specialist and are then given a task, such as going to a horse they are drawn to or building an obstacle course based on their life.

“We don’t focus too much on what the client is doing. We focus on the horse’s behavior,” Elias said. “Horses are able to reflect the emotions of our clients.”

Clients could also be asked questions. For example, if they see a horse putting its mouth on another horse, what does it mean?

“To a client, it may mean many things,” Elias said. “Some see it as bullying, while others think they’re being playful. Whatever the client comes back with is where we explore further. They develop some kind of self-awareness.”

Lisa Gay-Drake is a local entertainer who became involved with the program in 2014 with her late husband, guitarist Tony Drake. As a certified mental health provider, Gay-Drake enjoys talking to participants about her own bullying experiences.

“I may be 59, but I’m not so far removed from walking down these hallways myself,” Gay-Drake said. “What this world needs more of is kindness. These horses help with that.”

Horses are thought to mirror human behavior and are adept at providing insight and solutions to problems, added Elias.

The ranch, 5138 N. Juliano Road, has six large horses, two miniature ponies and nine goats.

The organization does self-referrals or can accept referrals from other mental health industries. It currently has 32 participants who have suffered from domestic abuse or sexual abuse. There are also rape survivors, people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or bullying and those with eating disorders or substance abuse problems.

The organization also caters to groups through leadership and effective communication workshops, as well as team-building sessions.

New clients are typically introduced to all of the horses on the ranch, and they choose which horses they’d like to work with during their session. All of the horses have different temperaments and personalities, Elias said.

Using horses is not a new concept, as their therapeutic value has been documented throughout history.

The first study of riding as therapy was reported in 1875. French physician Cassaign used riding as a treatment for a variety of conditions. He concluded that it was helpful in the treatment of neurological disorders by improving posture, balance and joint movement, as well as psychological improvements, according to stablelifeinc.org, a nonprofit that provides support, education, advocacy and equine assisted activities to mental health consumers in Wisconsin.

“Horses have this inborn intuition that makes them phenomenal for this type of work,” Elias said. “They know when a child is sad, angry, upset or has a disability. They act differently when there’s a child with mental illness versus a physical disability. It’s just phenomenal. Seeing is believing.”

Elias said she has one client who the horses surround as if they’re trying to protect her. Although she doesn’t know the woman’s story yet, Elias knows there’s a reason the horses act that way.

Horses also reflect the energy of others. If children have a lot of energy, the horses will be just as energetic; if they’re calm, the horses will also be calm, she added.

“My three boys have been in therapy with Patricia for more than six years,” Karen Moerick said. “We’ve had great success. Kids don’t always want to talk about their problems, and here, they don’t have to. This therapy has enabled my kids to feel free from issues and express their innermost feelings — all without saying anything to the horse.”

The fee is $140 per hour, with most sessions lasting between 10 and 12 weeks, although it’s all based on the client’s needs. In addition, the equine therapy facility accepts most insurance plans, as well as Medicaid. The organization also works with clients to provide pro bono services if funds are available.

“Horses can teach us skills that are applicable to every day life,” Gay-Drake said. “Horses create this amazing calmness that allow people to discover themselves. These horses are 1,200 pounds, but they symbolize peace, strength, and they have this beauty and self-esteem that rubs off on others.”

Call 702-940-7896 or visit goals4success.org.

To reach North View reporter Sandy Lopez, email slopez@viewnews.com or call 702-383-4686. Find her on Twitter: @JournalismSandy.

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