A new and unique program in Hubley, N.S. FLAR Equine, which opened its doors a little more than a year ago, is offering therapy and support to victims of sexual assault.
Already teamed up with the IWK Children’s Hospital and Quest Rehabilitation Centre, FLAR has recently partnered with the Rehtaeh Parsons Society. The goal through the FLAR Equine Assisted Learning Program is to offer therapeutic services to those who have been bullied or are victims of sexual assault.
“It’s a really comfortable place to come and let my feelings out,” said one of the participants — a 15-year-old girl.
Because she is a victim of sexual assault, her identity is protected by a court imposed publication ban.
She and other participants take part in a series of obstacles with the horses that are aimed at helping them build life skills. It’s a new and hands-on way for people to readjust after traumatic events, and an alternative to traditional therapy methods.
“Everyone was like trying to, they were like saying you should go talk to a therapist or someone but I didn’t really want to because I felt like I’d get judged and like it’d be my fault,” the teen said.
“After going through a very traumatic incident three years ago, FLAR was one of the first opportunities outside of typical therapy that allowed me to work on myself. It has helped me learn to trust, to take control of a situation, and it has allowed me to gain a sense of confidence I never knew I had,” said another program participant.
The cost for the program is covered by the Rehtaeh Parsons Society and free to participants.
Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh’s mother, says she knew she wanted to create some form of therapy program involving animals following her daughter’s death. Parsons says the program offers participants a chance to connect with the horses and express themselves.
“We wanted it to be something that you can go to immediately so there’s not a big, long wait list,” she said.
“A lot of times, talk therapy, which is great for some people, is not great for everyone, especially when you’re dealing with young people. I know personally with Rehtaeh, she got tired of telling her story and she didn’t truly understand how therapy was a process that she had to work through so to be able to connect on another level and be able to do hands on work and get it out of your head is another way to transform.”
Organizers say the horses can actually sense how the individual is feeling during their sessions.
“If you’re having a good day they’ll know it. If you’re having an anxious day they’ll know it and if you’re having a bad day they’ll know it and they’ll be able to tell you right away through the obstacle,” said Rachael Dent, owner of FLAR Equine.
This type of therapy service is rare, there are only a handful of places in the country that offer it.
“It’s very important because it helps them kind of get back into their life — back in with their families, school, life…anything that they’ve really been struggling with,” said Dent.
Besides offering a safe space for individuals and teaching leadership, participants say the program is also helping to re-build their self confidence.
“I’m more outgoing and fun and just I don’t think about the incident anymore. It’s behind me. I don’t feel bad about it anymore and I’m really happy now.”