New equine therapy program helping first responders deal with added stress

A west metro nonprofit has created a new equine therapy program, designed specifically for first responders.

We Can Ride in Medina officially launched Equine Connections in September.

The goal is to help police, firefighters and paramedics cope with the many stressors they have faced this year, from the riots to the pandemic to the daily trauma of the job.

"Everyone’s just barely hanging on. Everyone’s at the end of their rope," said Megan Schwartz, who developed the program. "You just need somewhere to go. You need people that get it."

Schwartz is a paramedic who has worked in emergency medical services in the metro for the past four years. She has a background in equine therapy and trauma counseling and said it has always been her dream to combine her passion for horses with her career as a first responder.

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"The focus of this is to create a space for like-minded people, for people that go through the same thing day in and day out in their careers, to have a space for them to come and decompress together," Schwartz said. "The culture used to be, if any of it bothered you, you were too weak for the job. Now we’re realizing a lot of us are hurting more than we think and there’s just a ton of awareness being drawn to that, so I think now is the time for more programs to grow."

Schwartz said about 25 first responders from various parts of the metro have already participated in the program, with 96% reporting a significant reduction in stress.

She said they match participants with horses based on personality. Many have had no prior experience with horses.

"Sometimes you need something that’s a little bit different," said Amy Goodwin, a detective with Plymouth Police Department who has attended the program weekly since September. "It’s been great. I sleep better. I get excited. I have felt that stress relief, so it’s been a great thing."

Currently, the sessions are once a week for an hour and a half.

"It just allows you this space to process everything and just see where the horse takes you," Schwartz said. "Horses are very reflective and very responsive to us and they can help us realize what we’re feeling, even after we bury it down. Watching people connect with these animals and watching their guards go down has been really powerful."

We Can Ride said they have significantly discounted the price in the hopes of being able to reach more first responders. Depending on the session type, it ranges from $20-$48 per class.

You can learn more at the link here.