May 23, 2024
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May 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

A Different Kind of Therapy in the NEIGHborhood

Please note I am not a licensed mental health professional; this article is solely written based on my own personal experiences.

For about a year now I have been looking into alternatives to talk therapy for my treatment- resistant depression, anxiety and complex trauma. A few times over the past year, equine therapy was suggested and I thought it was definitely not for me. I couldn’t imagine being around stables, let alone a real horse within inches of me. Also, how in the world will a horse help me?

However, an opportunity arose for me to participate in equine therapy, and so my new journey of healing began.

Equine therapy helps people since horses have similar behaviors to humans both socially and through responsiveness. Because of this, it becomes easier for an individual to connect to a horse and use it in therapeutic ways with a trained professional.

My equine therapy sessions consisted of a few parts. After the trauma therapy session and dealing with the tough stuff, I was taken outdoors to the stables. I was introduced to the horses and worked with one in particular, Barcelona. Barcelona got to know me, smelled me and touched me. He even tried to give me a hug (in his own horse way I was told). The first session I simply pet the horse. Barcelona picked up on my anxiety about being there, as well as emotions from the earlier therapy session.. I was taught how to be with the horse and what safety precautions to take, and was never left alone. As the therapist and I continued the conversation, it was as if Barcelona knew what we were talking about and reacted to it by making certain sounds or gestures.

In later sessions I fed the horse, was empowered enough to go into the stall with the horse myself, and even led Barcelona on short walks. The most important lesson I learned while taking it for a walk was to look up and toward where I wanted to go (like riding a bicycle). It made me feel in control and at the same time strengthened by knowing I could lead a 1,000 pound horse.

With each session my demeanor completely changed. From walking in with my head hunched into my shoulders and arms crossed, to walking out standing proud and tall and feeling like a new person. Although I only had six sessions of equine therapy, it was a life changing experience. Will this feeling last with me forever? Probably not. My therapist took a lot of pictures and videos to remind me of the experience to look at later when I’m having a tough time.

The Hebrew word for horse, סוס is a palindrome, spelled the same way both backward and forward. A horse is an animal that surrounds you with love, whether they know you or not. They somatically pick up on a human’s emotions and do what they can to comfort you. That’s exactly what I needed. By my final session Barcelona was surrounding me completely, and that was his way of showing love.

In addition, the גימטריה of the word סוס is 126. The corresponding פרק in תהילים is the same one that we sing on Shabbat and holidays before benching. According to Rav Kook, as noted in the “Koren Tehillim,” the message of this פרק is during our long exile our ability to dream was lost. With the ultimate redemption, that ability is restored. “The tears of exile become songs of joy because of the transformative powers of the dream.” Radak also comments on this פרק by saying that “The sufferings of our exile will be like a fleeting dream in our eyes, because of the great joy that we will experience when we return to our land.” (Koren Tehillim).

I have been through extreme emotional pain throughout my life. Equine therapy has been the beginning of my own personal form of redemption. I am starting to go out more, interact with others again and take care of myself. Having the give-and-take relationship with the horse, taking it for walks, feeding it and brushing it, I have become empowered to open up my eyes to all of the people that I can potentially help from my own personal experiences. I am more than what I have gone through in my life thus far; I stand tall as if I am walking my 1,000 pound horse, and continue to look forward to where I want to go.


Shelli Sussman is the founder of RenaLi Mental Health, a comprehensive worksheet of mental health providers recommended by others in the community that can be viewed anonymously. Most of the providers are in network with insurance. For access to the spreadsheets and updates, follow RinaLi Mental Health on Facebook or Instagram, or email [email protected]

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