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Study to examine the benefit of horse therapy with youth solvent abusers

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By Susan Solway Sweetgrass Writer SIKSIKA FIRST NATION







Healing through “horse therapy” is a way in which a First Nation in southern Alberta is looking to help youth linked with solvent abuse.

Siksika First Nation recently opened a treatment centre for youth solvent abuse and is partnering with researchers from three universities and from the Youth Solvent Addiction Committee, the National Native Addictions Partnership Foundation, and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse to examine the benefits of Equine Assisted Learning. An Elder from the Siksika Medicine Lodge is among the advisors helping with the project.

Equine Assisted Learning started from the Cartier Equine Learning Centre in Prince Albert, Sask. A partnership was formed with the White Buffalo Centre on Sturgeon Lake First Nation, Sask.

Now, the values of EAL are being researched as a behaviour modification program on the Siksika First Nation.

Siksika First Nation approached the advisory committee to be part of the process and to get help with their programming, said Colleen Dell, associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan. Universities in Calgary and Regina are also involved.

“It is important to know what we are doing and what is working so that we can replicate those things…if there is no standards then how do we know what is working for the kid? Understanding cultural competence as well is important,” said Dell.

Because horses are part of many First Nation cultures, Tamara MacKinnon, program director for the Cartier Equine Learning Centre and designer for the EAL program, said there are strong positive cultural components naturally built into using that particular animal.

Horses naturally look for and respond to stimulus, said MacKinnon, and that works well with providing a curriculum that enables relationships with the horse and youth at risk. The horse responds according to what the youth does and that immediate response guides the youth in his actions.

“As the person changes and, in that moment makes the right decision, their anxiety is released and the horse immediately responds positively,” said McKinnon.

The White Buffalo Centre and the Cartier Equine Learning Centre identify the needs of an individual, said MacKinnon, allowing programs to be tailored to fit the First Nation community.

The two-year research study of EAL in the treatment of First Nations youth solvent abuse got underway at the end of June. With guidance from the advisory team, which also includes a youth treatment graduate from Saskatchewan, the outcomes of this specific approach will be evaluated.  Taken into consideration will be the potential benefits of including the horse within educational and life skills programs with this specific target group.

The project is funded by the Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research, an innovative Alberta-based resource that supports the development of research evidence and policy for child youth and family health and well being.