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Horses help out in wellness program

Wyatt Herschell, 10, of Zelienople approaches Enchi-Lada, a miniature donkey, during the Equine Assisted Wellness Workshop at Glade Run Adventures on Sunday.

ZELIENOPLE — A new program at Glade Run Adventures uses the natural connection between humans and horses to teach mindfulness and reduce stress and anxiety.

The public is invited and no experience with horses is needed to attend an Equine Assisted Wellness Workshop, held the first Sunday of each month on the Glade Run Adventures campus.

Julie Wahlenmayer, director at the facility, said the two-hour program sees participants interact with horses in non-mounted ways like grooming and leading the animals around the riding arena.

As they do so, participants learn and practice mindfulness and stress-reduction techniques and observe their effects on the horses.

“They respond to changes in our stress levels and energy,” Wahlenmayer said. “As you relax, you can watch the horses relax too.”

She said everyone is excited to be around the horses and engage with them.

“We are mindful and in the moment when we are interacting with large animals,” Wahlenmayer said.

The exercises used in the workshop are beneficial in all aspects of life.

“We practice mindfulness and wellness techniques that can be used outside the barn as well to improve our overall wellness,” Wahlenmayer said.

All ages can participate, but those younger than 18 must attend with a parent.Some participants have attended more than one workshop, while others drop in when their stress levels are becoming significant.Chris Smith, the manager of autism support at Glade Run, has attended two sessions and found them helpful.“Working in mental health and education can be stressful,” Smith said. “It's nice to pay attention to my own mental health sometimes.”Smith had no experience with horses and was a little apprehensive when he learned that four of the Glade Run Adventures horses would be strolling around the arena untethered during the program.“Animals are unpredictable,” Smith said. “Sharing their space when you're not experienced with them is enlightening.”He said the group uses mindfulness and other techniques to acquaint themselves with the gentle giants.“You recognize that it's OK to have a little bit of mindfulness to focus on your senses and breathing and take a moment to appreciate your surroundings,” he said.On Sunday, he put a halter on one of the horses and led it around the arena.“It's uplifting to connect with them and realize you're able to groom them or put the halter on and lead them,” Smith said. “It's empowering to overcome our own anxieties about these big animals.”

He said the workshops have helped him practice mindfulness in the moment and taught him how to stop and focus on the body's reaction in stressful situations.“We all have our own baggage we carry,” Smith said. “It's nice to have an activity that allows you to mindfully take a breath and take a load off and walk away lighter.”Wahlenmayer said at the end of each session, participants are invited to write a word on the chalkboard that defines their reaction to the workshop.“Peaceful,” “relaxed,” “fun” and “calming” are words that frequently appear each month, she said.The workshops cost $25 for two hours.To sign up for a Sunday morning workshop, email jwahlenmayer@gladerun.org or call 724-452-4453, Ext. 1236.While most workshops are held on the first Sunday of the month, the March session will be held on the second Sunday.

Cheri Herschell of Zelienople, a volunteer at Glade Run Adventures, conducts an activity with participants in the Equine Assisted Wellness Workshop and horses Hershey, left, a quarter horse/thoroughbred mix, and Pumpkin, a 26-year-old Percheron.
Julie Wahlenmayer, director at Glade Run Adventures, discusses the day's activities with those taking part in the Equine Assisted Wellness Workshop on Sunday. The workshops are the first Sunday of most months, though the March session will be on the second Sunday.