The Naples Therapeutic Riding Center has twelve horses that are meant to help people heal physically and mentally.
Naples Daily News
Horses in Naples are helping healthcare workers heal their stress. For the first time Naples Therapeutic Riding Center is offering mental health and wellness therapy free to local frontline medical professionals who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For decades the riding center has been known for its work with people with special needs. In August they extended the program.
“With the isolation anxiety, it helps reduce stress,” said Missy Saracino Lamont, executive director of Naples Therapeutic Riding Center. “With the pandemic continuing to have cases rise we understand they are still under a lot of stress and working very hard. Our horses are kind and affectionate and friendly, and their calming nature helps to reduce stress.”
On Wednesday evening 10 healthcare workers participated in the first session of the pilot program.
“I think it has done a lot to help destress,” said Erika Zalecky, a certified child life specialist at Golisano’s Children’s Hospital. “We are all working day in and day out in this situation that no one has ever been in before. It is stressful.”
Erika Zalecky, pathology coordinator at Golisano Children’s Hospital, walks Red around the arena during an equine therapy session, offered for free to local healthcare workers, at Naples Therapeutic Riding Center on Wednesday, August 12, 2020. (Photo: Alex Driehaus/Naples Daily News/USA TODAY – FLORIDA NETWORK)
“This is very helpful. Most of the time we don’t do a lot for ourselves,” added Carmen Perez, a licensed practical nurse at Aston Gardens, an assisted living facility.
That’s exactly what workers at the riding center want to accomplish.
“I want the horses to help with stress relief,” said Leah Haven, lead instructor.
“It is to allow these healthcare workers time to decompress. Hopefully tomorrow when they wake up, they will feel better. I tell them to let the horses absorb their emotions and take their stress and allow them to feel better.”
For the first session Haven had the participants pet and brush the horses, lead them around the arena and talk to the large gentle creatures.
Lourdes Araujo, a mental health therapist, was also there to help.
“I want them to be able to destress,” she said. “They are frontline. They have been dealing with all this COVID. I want them to get in touch with their emotions, and horses help with that. If they have had a hard day it is a safe place and gives them tools they can take with them to destress.”
Christina Theosevis, a wellness manager at NCH, said this is just what she needs.
“I recently lost my mother,” she said. “I have always loved horses so I thought it would be a good opportunity. I have been so busy helping my father so I have not had time to grieve. I have not had time for taking care of me so this is time to take care of me. This is relaxing with the animals.
“I believe animals are healing to me. I am so busy being the caretaker, so here I can relieve the stress. It’s very relaxing and calming. Animals always make you feel better. I love it. I am going to try to come every Wednesday,” Theosevis said.
Participants also enjoyed the exercise and being outdoors.
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“I have been following the guidelines and not going out, so this is a great way to be outdoors and still social distance,” Zalecky said.
Cheryl Casvouine, an office coordinator at NCH, said bonding with a horse for even a short period is helpful.
“We worked today and work is always stressful, so this is great to bond with a horse,” she said. “Just to be outdoors. We don’t get outdoors a lot when we work. When you sit at a desk all day this is great exercise”
The healthcare workers were also thankful for the free program and all the community support.
Janet Incelli, office coordinator at NCH, brushes Red during an equine therapy session, offered for free to local healthcare workers, at Naples Therapeutic Riding Center on Wednesday, August 12, 2020. (Photo: Alex Driehaus/Naples Daily News/USA TODAY – FLORIDA NETWORK)
“The community has really offered so many things for us,” Casvouine added. “It has meant so much. It’s the gratitude and the appreciation that makes us so happy.”
Mariana Cifuentes, a nurse at NCH, brushed a horse name Red.
“Animals are so receptive. They bring a sense of tranquility,” she said. “I appreciate this. The community has been very kind.”
Currently the program is expected to run through the end of August.
“We are slow in August and I have wanted to give back to the community and who better than the people who have given so much to us,” Lamont, the riding center director, said. “If we can we will continue it. It depends on how many programs we can start back up. If it is very popular and there is a need, we will make it work.”
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