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by Sophie Gagnaire, VYFS

July 24, 2019

In December 2018, Axiom Equine - an equine assisted learning facility here on Vashon, utilized a grant from the Minnie Perkins Foundation in Los Angeles to team up with the Latino Outreach Program at Vashon Youth and Family Services. This partnership provided an unforgettable experience for five children ranging from eleven to thirteen years old. The six hour workshop was designed to help the children discover personal strength and leadership from within. 


The Axiom Equine team and their five beautiful horses assisted the children in building a greater understanding of leadership by teaching them how to recognize conflicting emotions within themselves. “Horses need a leader. If you are asking them to do something and you feel conflicted, a horse can sense the incongruence and will choose another leader or take the lead themselves. We help participants integrate conflicting feelings in an environment where they are fully supported in the present moment,” said Melissa Pate, a founding partner of Axiom Equine. The feedback from the horses allowed children to see firsthand how their emotions affect their communication and how that in turn impacts their environment. The Axiom Equine team guided the children through a process to help them reframe their self perception, which changed the energy in the way they communicated with the horses. In real time they observed the horses’ newfound recognition of them as a leader!


By the end of the day, it was evident the children had built confidence and become more grounded in their sense of self. One child said “It was an amazing experience and I encourage other people to try it. It was one of the few times I was truly happy”. Holly Taylor, partner at Axiom Equine and psychotherapist, observed in the children “a joyful sense of efficacy in relationship with the horses.” 


One participant said, “It was one of the best experiences of my life. The happiest I’ve been all year. We were given the assignment to write down our feelings and I was having a really hard time. One of the horses reached around me from behind with its head and hugged me, and then I was able to do it.” 


The support felt by participants from the horses was unlike anything they had experienced before. Adam Stone, a therapist at VYFS who attended with this group said, “It was a joy to see the participants connect on such a deep level with the horses and each other; it was fun, healing, fascinating, beautiful, and meaningful.” 


Through the VYFS and Axiom Equine collaboration, five island youth had the opportunity to find their voices as leaders, find a greater connection within themselves, and to realize their place as active participants in our community, regardless of age. It is clear that these children will carry this experience with them for some time to come. 


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