Animals – including horses – can provide comfort to children dealing with the death of a loved one. For the fourth consecutive year, St. Elizabeth Hospice – along with equine therapist Beth Long – is offering an Equine Grief Camp to children ages 9 to 18. All the children who attend the camp have experienced the loss of a significant loved one.
“This camp is based on research that shows the effectiveness of using animals with grieving children,” said Gail Rizzo, child and family counselor for St. Elizabeth Hospice. “They can express without words and connect with the unconditional love of an animal and process emotions without necessarily having to come up with the words for them.”
During the weeklong day camp, children spend a lot of time connecting with their horse. They get to paint their horse to express memories of their loved one and learn how to lead their horse around the arena.
“They don’t ride the horse until the last day,” Rizzo said. “They learn how to groom the horse, how to talk to the horse, how to connect to the horse through breathing exercises and through touching the horse.”
Rizzo said there are also conversations about mindfulness, healthy ways to express emotion and the role of self-acceptance as it relates to having the confidence to lead a horse, as well as learning about processing emotion.
The impact the camp makes on the children is clear and the feedback from parents is positive, Rizzo said.
“Some kids at first are very introverted and shy and wouldn’t talk about anything, let alone the death of their loved one. Then by the end of the week they are talking and expressing through drawing and verbal exchange in amazing ways,” Rizzo said.
Equine Grief Camp is held at Meadowview Farm in Union, KY with transportation provided from St. Elizabeth Hospice. The next session is July 31-August 3, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. For more information, contact Gail Rizzo at (859) 301-4612.