Some of the greatest horsemen and women of the plains were the Lakota. The Lakota have an incredible spiritual connection with their horses and all the while experience the therapeutic benefits of health and healing that horses provide. Current research shows that just being around horses or taking care of them through something as simple as grooming, leading them or feeding the horse reduces stress, feelings of tension, anxiety and anger, lowers blood pressure and improves overall health.
In an effort to maintain and expand that connection with the horse and reap the benefits for our youth and community members, SGU Tiwahe Glu Kini Pi worked with SDSU Extension 4-H and other community partners to create a unique hands-on program to train individuals and give them the skills, knowledge and expertise to create and develop horse programs in communities.
During the 2018 SGU TGKP weeklong summer horse camps, youth were surveyed and expressed sadness at the ending of the camps and the desire to have the horse program continue and to be in their communities. Thus, the Equine Specialist Training Program was created. Daily training in the various aspects of horse care have been scheduled throughout the five month program which includes all aspects of horse health and daily care, working with children and their families, as well as ranch and facility management. Foremost are teachings about the historical and spiritual connection of the Sunkawakan Oyate (Horse Nation) with the Lakota.
Many individuals have come to share their expertise. Ron Fredrick, SDSU Extension 4-H, provided training on safety, horse anatomy, nutrition and feeding as well as horse health and care. The next week, he taught the Equine Specialists how to trim and maintain hooves. At this farrier training, participants even learned how to pick up a horse’s hind foot, hold it and trim it!
On a daily basis, Equine Specialists are given instruction by TGKP Ranch Manager, Dave Valandra, on the various aspects of how to maintain a community horse facility. This includes providing a clean, safe environment; how to operate small equipment; aspects of a good watering system; proper use, care and storage of tack; what constitutes a good corral and fencing system for equine and working with and making the connection with horses. Participants learn not only the names of the horses but personalities, quirks and training of all 37 of them!
Greg Grey Cloud, TGKP Ranch Foreman and Culturally Specific Horse Group Therapy Facilitator, provides the Equine Specialists training through teaching Lakota Horse culture. Stories, experiences and teachings of the historical connections of the Lakota with the Sunkawakan Oyate, the Horse Nation, are used to further understanding. He teaches participants how the Horse Nation provides healing and restores health and well-being.
TGKP Equine Therapist, Kelsey Soles, MS -LPC, provided examples of what a typical equine therapy session might look like at the SGU Ranch. The Equine Specialists were able to observe and assist with horses in two Mock Sessions. With training, the Equine Specialists can assist therapists with the horses during sessions. Equine specialists are not therapists but they were made aware of mental health issues children deal with today and how to refer them to local programs for services. Charlotte Emery, MS- LPC, TGKP Clinical Supervisor, gave a presentation on available services and hands-on instruction for filling out forms and process to make referrals.
Since the goal of the Equine Specialist training program is to create horse programs in communities, Harold Compton of TLE provided a presentation on land including the process for communities to acquire land for horse programs for youth and families.
Some amazing and fun things have occurred during the training. One of the Equine Specialists was admiringly dubbed, “The Horse Whisperer,” by fellow members when he was able to touch, pet and then halter a wild, two year old rescue stallion that wouldn’t allow himself to be caught or touched by others. Later he was even able to get on the young stallion.
Reflecting on what they have learned thus far, the five Equine Specialist trainees said:
“This program has been one of the most influential things in my life today. So far I’ve learned
several important tools that I could use throughout my life.”
Felisha Whiting shared that her highlight is “Learning how to spiritually connect with our horse
relatives. Trimming horse’s hooves is pretty fun, too!”
Asa Amiotte feels that the advantages of the Equine Specialist Training Program is “Working with great people and is a very rewarding experience.”
Fred Fast Horse appreciated “Learning how to spiritually reconnect with our relatives in the old way compared to the cowboy way which is common around here.”
Mayda Bartlett stated, “Growing up around horses, I personally have experienced the
therapeutic effect of the Horse Nation. So I was thrilled for the creation of the Equine Specialist
Training Program. I am very grateful to have such amazing and knowledgeable individuals to
learn from. Thank you Dave Valandra, Greg Grey Cloud, Ron Frederick, Kelsey Soles, Marlies
White Hat, Conrad Eagle Feather, Mark White Hat and the many others that help us every day.
As Equine Specialists, we have the huge task of putting a horse program into our communities
and I appreciate any and all help!”
Gregg Grey Cloud offered this bit of advice for the public: “I think what’s important for people to know in our community is that you don’t need to have any experience riding horses to come out to the ranch. We work with beginners to experienced riders and welcome any and all!” TGKP is offering Summer Horse Camps for youth. Contact the program at 856-8163 for applications and more information.
In the coming weeks, the Equine Specialists are assisting with the TGKP summer Horse Camps and Lakota Youth Development Camps. Taffy Lafferty of REDCO will also be assisting them with strategic planning to develop programs to share their new skills with children in the communities and at the Rosebud Boys and Girls Clubs. For more information, please contact Marlies White Hat at 605-856-8203.
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