BY GABI GARRETT/contributing writer
Photo | Sarah Chain
Horses in the Equine Therapy Group program have been rescued or adopted after no longer being fit to ride.
Kari Whatley owns the Equine Therapy Group in Bay Minette, a unique therapy application utilizing Whatley’s background as a licensed professional counselor and the foundational tactics of the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association.
Whatley is on a mission to serve the community to the best of her ability, combining her love of counseling with her love of horses.
“Some people are power hungry, some people are impact hungry,” she stated. “I am impact hungry.”
Most importantly, Whatley is “impact hungry” around opportunities to assist military veterans and their families, in particular those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“The foundations in our area have been so helpful and supportive of Equine Therapy Group, thankfully — The Cox Family Foundation and the Community Foundation of South Alabama, in particular. Both of these foundations have enabled us to provide scholarship opportunities to veterans and their families,” Whatley said.
So, how does therapy with horses work?
You may be envisioning horseback riding side by side with a therapist, explaining your life story and attempting to not feel frightened by the galloping of your horse. (Why do horses stomp their feet incessantly, anyway?)
On the contrary, you won’t actually ride any of the horses at Equine Therapy Group. Much like the people ETG serves, there is something slightly malfunctioning in each horse. Every horse has been rescued or adopted after no longer being fit to ride. Many horses come in with slight blindness, for example.
Each horse is taken through rigorous training to ensure they aren’t easily spooked by patients that feel nervous or make sudden movements.
Therapy sessions start by simply standing near the horse in a small, enclosed area.
“Horses are great detectors of energy,” Whatley said. “If you come in here with anger, or a bad mood, the horse will stand on the other side of the area. But if you are positive and loving, they can sense that and will willingly stay with you.”
After you chat with Whatley about your current situation, you’ll begin to do a few alternative therapy techniques. This is especially helpful if you’re someone for whom traditional therapy hasn’t worked well.
One exercise Whatley uses frequently is to write the name of a boundary, or fear, the person in session is struggling with on a prop for the horse to hop over, then allow the patient to walk the horse over the hurdle, simulating what needs to happen in real life.
Whatley said she has seen dramatic improvements from equine therapy. In fact, the horses complement her counseling abilities, often sensing things before she does.
“We’ve had experiences in family counseling where the horse would stand in between two family members,” she said, “We’d find later that there were particular issues between the two the horse was dividing.”
Whatley said she wants to utilize the foundations’ gifts to the Equine Therapy Group to assist as many veterans as she can. So if you or a loved one could benefit from a little time spent in nature, at a beautiful location with kind horses, consider visiting Whatley and allow her “impact hunger” to be satiated.
Interested in visiting Equine Therapy Group? Contact Kari, 251-237-3384. Visits by appointment only.
Equine Therapy Group
37252 Cheval Aire Road
Bay Minette 36507