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Horses as therapists

Nanette Foster remembers the exact moment when she decided to turn her barn, Autumn Run Stables on the West Charlton/West Glenville border, into more than just a place for horse lessons.

I had a little girl riding with me who was going through a really tough time. I was getting her situated and this big thoroughbred kept nudging to get in the gate where the practice was happening. I didn't understand it and thought it was pretty strange, said Foster.

She left for a matter of seconds and in that time, the horse nudged through the gate and was standing next to the little girl.

"He took her, with his head around her shoulder and back, and pulled her into his chest. It's the closest thing I've ever seen to a horse giving a child a hug," said Foster. "She let loose with tears. For some reason, he sensed she was having a really bad day and he showed up."

That was back in 2005. Now, Foster is an equine specialist who works with therapists to counsel at-risk teen girls and foster children. She said she's usually called on to help when the therapist hits a wall in talk therapy and needs something to breakdown the wall between therapist and client. Horse therapy does just that.

"Simply put, it's like looking at a 1,000-pound mirror, the horse being an emotional and truthful being, shines back the emotion that person brings to him or her," said Foster. "For example, I have a lot of foster kids who have attachment issues, which makes total sense because the child has been abandoned and let down by people like their own parents kids shut down and become numb and when they enter the ring and do a therapy session with the horse, they feel comforted and safe."

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