Bethany Professor Using Equine Therapy for
Children’s Behavioral Health

WHEELING, W.Va. – Friday, Aug. 16, OVMC’s Robert C. Byrd Child & Behavioral Health Center had a special guest: Gordon the pony. Gordon and Bethany College associate professor Melanee Sinclair are part of a team that will help children and adolescents admitted to the center.

Equine3WEB.jpgSinclair, a Mental Health Specialist and Associate Professor of Social Work at Bethany; Amy McGreal, an Equine Specialist at Oglebay’s Stables; and Gordon the pony  received special training to be part of the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association. EAGALA is an international program, which certifies treatment teams to provide intensive psychotherapy or learning opportunities.

Patients at the Robert C. Byrd Center are dealing with various issues, including suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, depression and anxiety. Through this type of equine therapy, John Antal, Director of Clinical Services at the center, hopes the children and adolescents can better deal with their feelings.

“Kids have a hard time putting feelings into words. But when children are able to relate to an animal, there’s just a sigh of relief,” Antal said. “They can let their defenses down.”

Also, Sinclair said, horses and other equine animals have a unique trait: “They are responsive to what we do,” she said. “If we’re really nervous, they’re really nervous too.”

Because of this, the interaction with Gordon may make it easier for therapists to understand how patients are feeling.

After EAGALA sessions, therapists will go through “processing” with patients, discussing their thoughts and helping them deal with any issues. Antal believes it will be a more positive experience after the children spend time with Gordon.

“Gordon is the perfect horse for this program,” Sinclair said of the 18-year-old pony that was rescued two years ago and has spent the last year being trained. “He’s so outgoing, and he loves people.”

EAGALA sessions will be held every other Friday for the next six months for all patients at the center, who range in age from five to 17 years old.

Bethany College offers majors in Equine Studies, including tracks in pre-veterinary studies and barn management, as well as Social Work, with an Equine Facilitated Therapy Certificate Program.

Bethany College also provides trail rides, pony rides, summer pony camp, Read to Ride, and riding lessons to the community located at Oglebay Stables.

The Robert C. Byrd Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Center opened in February, and is the only facility in the area that treats acute behavioral issues of children and adolescents.

Bethany College is a small college of national distinction located on a picturesque and historic 1,300-acre campus in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. Founded in 1840, Bethany is the state’s oldest private college.