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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.”

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